The last chance road to the NCAA tournament begins tonight for the Washington State Cougars and Oregon Ducks when they meet for the third and final time this season, in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Tip off is scheduled for 8 p.m. PT from Las Vegas, and the game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network. You also can stream it online via Pac-12.com or the Pac-12 Now app on your favorite handheld device.
Improbably, the teams split the first two matchups, with the Cougs beating the Ducks by two points just six days ago in Pullman. That win came about three weeks after the Ducks beat the Cougs by 27 in Eugene.
So, while WSU is even in the series win column against Oregon, they’re still minus-25 in the series point column and six games back in the Pac-12 standings — presumably the reason why the Cougs are 12.5-point underdogs in the sports books and 9-point underdogs in kenpom.com’s forecast.
A fan probably would feel a lot better about the Cougs’ chances of double dipping the Ducks if they hadn’t laid an absolute egg in the game in between these two matchups; on Saturday, WSU was run off the floor for the second time by Oregon State — this time by only 25 points (it was 32 the first time).
It was a bummer of a result, because the Cougs truly had been playing better basketball after beating Colorado and Cal and then only losing by a pair to Stanford before beating the Ducks.
Ernie Kent, as he is wont to do, laid the blame at the feet of his players, saying he and his staff did everything they needed to prepare the team. Here’s to hoping the players have learned some TOUGHNESS in between Saturday and today.
Beyond TOUGHNESS, the Cougars are going to have to bring their defense along with them in order to have a chance to beat the Ducks again. Last time out, the Cougs did an effective job with their 1-3-1 zone, disrupting the Ducks’ passes to force 13 turnovers (nearly 20 percent of Oregon’s possessions) and enticing them into a ton of 3s, on which they did not shoot well.
Here’s to betting the Ducks have a better plan for the 1-3-1 this time around.
As it was, WSU still gave up 1.15 points per possession — an above-average performance for them, but still not good — so they’ll still likely need an excellent offensive showing. Who knows if they’ll be able to shoot at the same level again (their 61.1 effective field goal percentage in the game was one of only six times over 60 this season), but maybe they can keep the turnovers down just enough to keep the scoring at a high level.
And one other thing to keep an eye on: WSU did an exceptionally poor job of rebounding out of the zone, as the Ducks rebounded nearly 40 percent of their own misses. The Cougs will have to be better.
If they don’t and they aren’t, the Cougars’ season will (mercifully?) be over with a loss.