The Washington State Cougars look to sweep the regular-season series—the Apple Cup series—from the Washington Huskies in Pullman on Monday night (5 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). WSU beat UW in Seattle handily just 15 days ago, and both teams will be playing their third game in five days.
The Jan. 31 loss to Wazzu started a five-game losing streak for Washington, but it showed more fight in a 64-61 defeat to UCLA on Saturday. The Cougs are coming off back-to-back weekend splits against the same schedule.
Let’s look at the key players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Huskies.
When UW has the ball...
WSU was able to stymie Washington last time out, particularly inside the paint. The Huskies made just 12 of 30 inside the arc while grabbing under 22 percent of offensive rebounding opportunities and turning it over on almost 26 percent of possessions. The only reasonably bright spot for UW was 3-point shooting, where the Huskies hit 36 percent of 25 attempts.
Quade Green took the lion’s share of those 3-pointers, hitting 4 of 11. He’ll be the primary focus again on offense for the Huskies. While he shoots many 3s, he mostly wants to work in the midrange and go towards the basket. WSU was able to take some of that away last time out, as 11 of 18 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. When he gets inside, he can also distribute. Limiting his ability to drive to the basket is key to stopping UW.
Update: Green will not suit up tonight (and neither will WSU’s best scorer).
Erik Stevenson will flank Green (well, not now)—he is a jump shooter that is most effective spotting up from 3 but he will put it on the deck and shoot a midrange shot if challenged. That’s a much less efficient play for him, so hard closeouts are key.
Marcus Tsohonis backs up the guard positions, and he is dangerous when getting hot from the outside. Tsohonis has had some big shooting games and can carry UW’s offense for stretches off the bench. It’s best not to leave him open.
In the frontcourt, Jamal Bey has been a knockdown 3-point shooter at 52 percent but can also get to the rim and draw fouls. He’s not a particularly aggressive player, using only 16 percent of UW’s possessions while he is on the floor. Hameir Wright loves to launch from deep but has struggled to shoot 3s so far this season. His 6’9 220 frame and athleticism project him and a player that can mix it up inside—as does his 65 percent shooting on 2s. However, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in going at the basket or attacking the offensive glass.
Nate Roberts and Riley Sorn are the primary post players. Roberts missed a handful of minutes last time against WSU due to foul trouble, but he is a good offensive rebounder that draws fouls and finishes reasonably well around the rim. Sorn uses his 7’4 frame to wreak havoc on the offensive glass and also has been an adept finisher. However, he’s not going to create much for himself and relies on other players setting him up.
WSU’s frontcourt handled Roberts and Sorn well last time. Pryor and Sorn combined for just three total field goal attempts and one offensive rebound in 35 minutes. If the Cougs can do that again, they can take away easy baskets for Washington.
Overall, UW has been heavily reliant on 3-pointers for offensive success. If WSU pushes shooters off the line or forces contested looks from deep, it will limit the Huskies once again.
When WSU has the ball...
There’s a major question for WSU offensively going into this one—Isaac Bonton's availability after injuring his ankle on Saturday. Isaac Bonton is out, and that’s a big deal. The senior is Wazzu’s most important offensive player, and he has been putting up big numbers as of late. WSU loses its primary playmaker and shotmaker.
From UW’s end, the key question is if it will rely heavily on the zone. The Huskies were manhandled on the offensive glass last time against WSU—the Cougs grabbed 49 percent of their own misses. Washington switched to man defense a few times against Wazzu last time, but it seemed to play more man more exclusively in its last game against UCLA.
That heavier dose of man defense led to much better rebounding for Washington and one of its best defensive efforts of the season. If UW does ditch the zone, Bonton’s absence may be even more evident, as he is the team’s best player at creating off the dribble.
However, it’s possible that WSU can mitigate some of Bonton’s absence
(if he is out) by going inside to Dishon Jackson and Efe Abogidi. Both were highly effective against UW’s frontcourt last time out.
It’s hard to project exactly what UW’s defense will look like based on past trends with the man-to-man wrinkle, but overall it has been the worst in Pac-12 play. The Huskies are 12th in turnover percentage against, 12th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed, and 11 in 2-point percentage allowed—which hurts when they allow the second-lowest rate of 3-point attempts per field goal attempt.
WSU was really good when it didn’t turn it over against UW last time, so taking care of the basketball can lead to success. Noah Williams is due for a bounceback game, and he loves playing UW. WSU might need that from Williams
if Bonton can’t go with Bonton out.
The Bottom Line
WSU can likely limit UW offensively again (especially with Green sidelined). The Cougs have been much better at stopping teams recently and have moved up to 38th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. There’s always the potential for the Huskies to hit a bunch of 3-pointers, so limiting those attempts is the best course of action for WSU.
The other end of the floor is more of a mystery, with
Bonton’s status Bonton out and UW’s defensive strategy up in the air. Depending on those factors, this could be much more of a grind for WSU than the first matchup.
KenPom predicts the Cougs to win 74 percent of simulations with an average score of 73-66. The defense is the identity for WSU, and a win would likely be by way of the defense.