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WSU vs. Colorado basketball: Cougs have a good shot at their 4th league win

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Surprisingly, the Buffaloes sit below the Cougars in the Pac-12 standings.

Josh Hawkinson's defensive rebounding probably will be key tonight.
Josh Hawkinson's defensive rebounding probably will be key tonight.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State visits a Colorado team on Saturday (5 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks) that is riding a four-game losing streak that has come, for the most part, without two of its best players. Big man Josh Scott has missed five of the past six games with back spasms, and sharpshooting Xavier Johnson has missed three straight due to injury and suspension.

Those missed minutes have put an an ever higher burden on guard Askia Booker, who already takes a greater percentage of his team's shots than any player in the country. Booker has more to do with his team's success on offense than anybody in the team's conference, as he also assists on nearly one-third of Colorado's baskets while on the floor.

Booker scores primarily on the strength of his jumper. Just one-fifth of his shots come at the rim, and his free throw rate is well below the NCAA average. It's probably a good idea that he sticks outside, as he makes less than  half of his shots at the rim while knocking down 39 percent of his 3s.

When Scott is out, the interior offensive duty falls on 6'9 Wesley Gordon and 6'6 guard Jaron Hopkins. Both take more than half their shots inside, but each does it differently. More than 60 percent of Gordon's interior buckets are assisted, while Hopkins is more likely to create for himself, having made over half of his close shots without the benefit of an assist.

Nearly all of Gordon's unassisted layups have come after an offensive rebound, an area where he is perhaps most dangerous. He has hit a remarkable 91 percent of putback attempts this season. Josh Hawkinson and company better be ready to put a body on Gordon, or he will make them pay.

Without Scott, Colorado loses what was one of its primary offensive weapons from non-conference play: The free throw. Scott takes more than eight free throws for every 10 field goal attempts. The Buffaloes have struggled to get to the line in games he has missed, exemplified by a mere eight tries in the loss to Washington on Thursday.

While Colorado has struggled to get to the line recently, it's also prevented opponents from getting to the line. The Buffaloes have the lowest free throw rate allowed during conference play. That will be strength vs. strength, as Washington State leads the league in free throw rate on offense.

Washington State should find opportunities for 3s against Colorado. The Buffs' Pac-12 opposition has taken 35 percent of its shots from outside, fourth-most in the conference. Colorado has defended those pretty well, allowing just 32 percent from beyond the arc.

The Cougars will find it tough to get the transition game going. Colorado allows the 54th-lowest percentage of transition shots in the nation. The Buffaloes also have the second-longest average possession time in conference play.

Surprisingly though, WSU's offense (at least the shooting part) hasn't been much better in transition. The Cougs have posted a 49 effective field goal percentage in both transition and non-transition situations.

There is a decent opportunity here for Washington State to secure its third road win of the Pac-12 season, especially if Scott continues to miss time. Booker will be the key - as he goes so goes the Colorado offense, and he is likely to have a nice day against a Cougar squad that has been lit up by guards at times this season.

The real question will be whether or not WSU can hit the shots to keep up on the offensive end. But that's always the question, isn't it?