Just two games remain in the conference schedule for the Washington State Cougars as they head to Tuscon to face the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday evening (7:30 pm PT, FS1). The Wildcats stifled WSU’s offense when the teams first met last month in Pullman.
The Cougs could muster just 0.75 points per possession in that February meeting, hitting only 3-18 from beyond the arc and making just 6-13 from the free throw line. WSU was surprisingly effective on two-pointers, but it was clear that Sean Miller and Arizona knew the only way an upset was happening was if Wazzu went wild from three.
CJ Elleby had a particularly tough time, finding very little space and finishing with just 7 points on 2-12 shooting. It’s unlikely that he struggles that much again, but he’ll need a significant improvement to give WSU a chance on the road.
It will be interesting to see if Arizona takes the same strategy—pushing WSU off the 3-point line at the expense of a few extra easy buckets inside. The Wildcats are typically better at defending the interior, allowing just 44 percent on 2-pointers. There’d be little reason to change from what worked, but perhaps WSU will have something up its sleeve to combat the Wildcats.
Defensively, the Cougs played pretty well last time against Arizona, limiting the Wildcats to 1.02 points per possession. Stars Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji were both limited, as WSU made an effort to stop the powerful guard-big combo. The beneficiary of that tactic was Stone Gettings, who punished WSU in the mid-range on the way to a game-high 19 points.
WSU hasn’t been as good defensively on the road as it has been at home, but it was able to shut down another explosive big in Isaiah Stewart last time out. If it can slow down Nnaji again, while limiting penetration from Mannion, there’s a chance to put together another solid defensive performance.
Wazzu’s chances will ultimately come down to if it can score effectively on Arizona. It was a slog last time, and even solid defense can only keep them in the game for so long. The Cougs will have to be better from deep, hope to draw more fouls, and maintain their 2-point effectiveness from last time. Big games from Elleby and Isaac Bonton would be helpful.
Overall, a WSU win would be quite a big upset and probably knock Arizona down a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding. The Wildcats can’t win the regular-season title anymore, but they certainly have the motivation to make their NCAA tournament path easier.
If you want to follow the game, the WSU men’s basketball Twitter account has you covered with game time, TV, stream, radio, and stats information: