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WSU vs. Utah basketball: Preview and game thread

The first game didn’t go so well. Let’s hope this goes better.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

To say the Utah has WSU’s number under Ernie Kent is vastly underselling the damage the Runnin’ Utes have inflicted on the Cougars in the past few seasons.

The Cougs haven’t beaten the Utes since January 2014, when Ken Bone was still coach. Under Kent, WSU is 0-5 against Utah and has been outscored by an average of 27 points, and that’s including an eight-point loss in March 2015. The Cougs have lost the last two against Utah by identical scores of 88-47.

The previous matchup — about three weeks ago — was WSU’s worst loss at home in a long, long time, and it extended a losing streak to four, erasing the promise of WSU’s 2-0 Pac-12 start.

The Cougs find themselves mired in a similar slump again, as back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles schools have dropped WSU to 4-7 in conference.

And all they have to do to snap out of it is ... beat Utah on the road!

The good news is that a 41-point loss is the same as a 10-point loss is the same as a 1-point loss, so this is a new game, yadda yadda yadda. The bad news is that the issues that plagued the Cougs in the first game haven’t exactly gone away.

Utah enjoyed particular success offensively in the first matchup destroying the Cougs on the interior, which was not anomalous — the Utes are No. 8 nationally in 2-point percentage and the Cougs are 267th and 12th in the conference at defending 2-pointers. If the Cougars are going to have any chance tonight, it has to start with defending better around the basket.

The Cougs also have to do a better job of rebounding; they didn’t get killed, but Utah definitely held an advantage.

Offensively, WSU really just needs to shoot better. The Utes have a good defense, but it’s not superior, and the Cougs really sabotaged themselves in the first matchup — their effective field goal percentage was just 34.5, fueled mostly by a putrid 2-for-18 performance from 3-point range. They should be able to have more success tonight because, hey, they’re not that bad!

Will it be enough to fuel a win? That’s a real tall order. But ... sports! predicts an 83-67 victory for Utah, with WSU winning all theoretical matchups 8 percent of the time.