It’s not often that a team faces the same non-conference opponent twice in the same season. When it does happen, it’s typically because of a tournament. That’s why the Washington State Cougars will get a chance to avenge an earlier 69-63 loss to New Mexico State when the schools face off in the consolation game at the Las Vegas Classic on Sunday night (7 p.m. PT, FS1).
The first loss felt like a disappointment to WSU, but it turns out the Aggies are much better than anticipated—siting at No. 79 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The first meeting was not dominated by any individual NMSU player, as CJ Bobbitt led the team with 15 points. The key difference is that New Mexico State turned the ball over just nine times compared to 18 for WSU.
Free throws were also an issue. Wazzu took just seven freebies, making only two. The Aggies were 16 of 21 from the line. That and the turnovers negated WSU’s shooting advantage—the Cougs put up a 56 percent effective field goal percentage to NMSU’s 46 percent.
Surprisingly in that game, WSU held its own on the offensive glass. Don’t expect that to happen again. New Mexico State is among the best teams in the country at crashing the boards, sitting at 19th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. WSU is at 245th.
That free throw disparity in the first meeting was also an unusual outcome for WSU, who sits at 20th nationally in free throw rate given up. That’s mostly because the Cougs are often not close enough to commit a foul, of course.
If WSU wants to avenge its loss to New Mexico State tonight, it’s going to need to shoot well. The Cougs will also need to take care of the basketball. If they can somehow match their previous rebounding effort, the first two should be enough.
That’s quite a lot to ask, but WSU’s going to have to play over its standard ability to beat top 100 teams.