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WSU vs. Utah: Preview, TV schedule, game thread

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The Cougars are trying to win in Salt Lake City for the first time ever.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars travel to take on the Utah Utes tonight in Salt Lake City — a place they’ve never won in 15 previous tries. And they’ve got a big uphill battle to get win number one.

Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. PT on ESPNU; you can also stream it online at WatchESPN.com.

The Utes aren’t too far ahead of the Cougs in the standings — just 3-4 to WSU’s 1-5 — thanks to a four-game skid that featured losses to Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC. Only one of those was particularly close. That said, Utah also has comfortable wins over Oregon and Washington, and a narrow win over Oregon State, establishing themselves as a tier above the Cougs.

The matchup features two of the better shooting offenses in the Pac-12; WSU ranks 40th nationally and first in the Pac-12 in effective field goal percentage, while Utah ranks 77th and third. Both teams put up a ton of threes, meaning tonight’s game has the potential to be a fun shootout.

There’s one big difference between the teams, though: Utah’s defense is excellent at making things uncomfortable for shooters. As always, how well WSU shoots will determine how long the Cougs can stay in the game.

Whether they actually win, though, probably will depend on other factors in addition to shooting — namely, whether they can take care of the ball. Up until Thursday, they were on a run of extreme sloppiness. The Utes don’t typically force a lot of mistakes from their opponents, so it will be on WSU to hold onto the ball long enough to give the shooters a chance to do what they can do.

Oh, and then there’s that pesky need to play defense. While Utah will indeed shoot a lot of threes, where they really do their damage is in pounding teams from inside the arc, and the Cougs are one of the worst teams in the country at defending the paint. Like Thursday, it might not actually matter how well they shoot if it’s a layup fest again, and David Collette is going to be a matchup nightmare for Drick Bernstine.

One more thing: If you’re wondering which dude is going to light up our defense from three, it’s Sedrick Barefield — he’s made just 27 percent of his 97 shots from beyond the arc, so I’m sure he’ll be 6-for-8 tonight.

Kenpom.com predicts this to be a matchup the Cougs win about two out of every nine tries, with the Utes winning by an average score of 76-68.