The Washington State Cougars end a three-game homestand by hosting the rival Washington Huskies on Sunday afternoon (3 pm PT, ESPNU). The Huskies are reeling as of late, having lost five in a row and seven of their last eight games.
That stretch has all but killed the at-large hopes of the young Husky squad. The string of losses has included many late-game heartbreaks—UW has five defeats by a possession or less in Pac-12 play. That has left Washington, once a dark horse candidate to win the league, in last place through 10 games.
If you are looking to follow the game, the Washington State Basketball twitter account has you covered with TV, stream, radio, and stats information:
| 24 |— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) February 9, 2020
| 3 pm
| Beasley Coliseum
️| https://t.co/M5M55A0GWy#GoCougs | #CougsVsEverybody pic.twitter.com/dRsUiQeSGs
Washington has been the second-best defense in points per possession allowed during Pac-12 play. The Huskies deploy the match-up zone that head coach Mike Hopkins brought from his days as a Syracuse assistant under Jim Boeheim. The zone creates some ugly basketball, but it has been highly effective in stopping offenses.
UW has the length and athleticism to make the gaps in the zone smaller, as well as block shots (third-best shot blocking rate in the country) and get steals (81st-best steal rate). The anchor is freshman Isaiah Stewart, but the versatile and long Jaden McDaniels also creates issues. The Huskies also have good size at the guard positions.
They allow the 6th-lowest 2-point field goal percentage nationally. Getting clean looks inside the arc has been tough for WSU against athletic squads, and that looks to be an issue again for the Cougs today.
Washington actually doesn’t allow a high rate of 3s for a zone, and defends them well—so that makes WSU’s ability to change the game from beyond the 3-point line a tougher task. What the Cougs might have to do is revert back to what they did in the non-conference—chase offensive rebounds.
Anybody who has played zone at any level of basketball knows it is tough to rebound when you don’t have a man to block out. UW is 328th in defensive rebounding percentage—getting second looks and finding open guys during the scramble could be WSU’s best offensive shot in halfcourt sets.
Given the stoutness of UW defense, the Cougs will need a big defensive performance of their own. The Huskies have struggled to score since point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible, and have given the ball away at a higher rate. Overall, Washington is just 10th out of 12 teams in terms of offensive efficiency during conference play.
Turnovers have been an issue—the Huskies are giving it away a league-worst 22.5 percent. That’s where Green’s absence has been most felt. Washington doesn’t really have another good primary ball-handling option. WSU has been good at forcing turnovers, and doing that to start some breaks before the zone can set up would be huge.
When Washington doesn’t give up the ball, Stewart is the primary offensive weapon. He draws fouls often in the post and attacks the offensive glass. He is the type of athletic big that has given the Cougs fits time-and-time again this season.
McDaniels has struggled mightily from the floor and in turning the ball over, but he will have the ball in his hand often. His length is a matchup issue, and he is streaky. Preventing him from getting going will be important.
Otherwise, Nahziah Carter will take plenty of shots as a wing—he is UW’s best outside shooter. Hameir Wright will primarily look for shots from long range, but does get to the free throw line fairly often despite having taken just 27 2-pointers all season.
This should be a tough, ugly defensive battle. UW has the athleticism to give WSU issues, but also has a couple exploitable weaknesses in defensive rebounding and turnovers. If WSU can shoot decently from the outside, get some extra looks via the offensive glass, and convert some giveaways into fast break buckets, the Cougs will have a good shot to win.