The Washington State Cougars are looking to sweep the Apple Cup series when they face the Washington Huskies on Saturday afternoon. Coming off of an impressive eight-point win against the Huskies, the Cougs are looking to make a push for a top-four seed in the Pac-12 as the regular season nears its end. WSU and UW both sit at 8-8 in conference play, making this matchup important beyond the rivalry.
The game is set to tip-off at 3 PM PT from Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle. It can be watched on the Pac-12 Network or Pac12.com (with a cable subscription).
The Huskies are in the exact same spot as the Cougs in the standings despite being much lower in both NET and Kenpom rankings, and they are going to be desperate for a victory here to stay in the race for the 4-seed. UW will follow the game against WSU with games against UCLA and Oregon, making this a borderline must-win for UW.
I previewed the Huskies earlier this week, and much of that will still be the same. In this scouting report, I’ll look more at what UW did against WSU on Wednesday and how that might impact the rematch.
Scouting the Washington Huskies
The Huskies had a surprisingly efficient game against the Cougs in Pullman and a lot of it appeared sustainable. They had an effective field goal percentage of 52.8%, which was the highest in any of their losses this season. They grabbed 11 offensive boards, which is high for them, but not absurdly so. They had their 5th best two-point shooting game of the season, mostly off of some impressive mid-range shot-making, well-timed cuts, and putback dunks. They shot near their season average from deep, 35%, but they had a 37% attempt rate, which is on the high side for them. The Cougs forced UW to take a lot of jumpers because of the presence of the bigs down low. Overall, this was a solid showing for UW’s offense, but the Cougs tightened up the defense down the stretch and WSU could even improve in Seattle.
UW still played a lot out of their classic offense in Pullman, for good and for bad. That offense is where the ball swings around the perimeter and someone tries to create an advantage against a one-on-one matchup. The Cougs generally did a great job defending this and stifled a lot of the Huskies’ attempts to drive.
The best thing the Cougs did on defense was that they made Terrell Brown, Jr’s life difficult on offense. Noah Williams did a great job hounding when he had the ball and making it difficult to get the ball when he didn’t have it. The bigs were also keyed into how effective his floaters and touch shots were, and they made sure to contest them whenever possible. Brown did still have 8 assists but keeping him from scoring went a long way to helping WSU win.
UW created a lot of good looks when they were active off the ball. The Cougs were clearly keyed into the gameplan that UW is a generally poor passing team, and they were willing to help on drivers, but this led to some ball-watching by off-ball players and some easy back-door cuts for UW.
This ball-watching hurt the Cougs on the boards too. Here, Efe Abogidi goes to contest the shot, but Mouhamed Gueye doesn’t get his help on the backside rebound, and he gives up the easy putback.
UW had a major size advantage on the wing when the Cougs played Tyrell Roberts and Michael Flowers together. Kyle Smith put Williams on Brown, which worked for the most part, but it left Flowers guarding perimeter players with six- or seven-inch height advantages over him. This led to some easy buckets for players like Cole Bajema and PJ Fuller.
Here, UW ran a horns set that allowed them to exploit that height advantage again.
UW did not play super up-tempo by any means, but they were able to push the pace whenever they got a live ball turnover or a long rebound. The Cougs held UW to the 2nd lowest pace they’ve played all year, only 65 total possessions, but UW could push that if they turn the Cougs over more than they did in the Palouse.
The Cougs occasionally went to a zone against UW, and it did not work particularly well. If UW had shot closer to their regular percentage from deep, perhaps it would have worked better, but the Huskies were familiar with how to score against the zone. UW put Brown in the high post, and he was able to pick apart WSU’s zone with his passing.
The Cougs also struggled to get rebounds in the zone and that opened up some good second chance looks for the Huskies.
The Cougar defense in general had moments of absolute brilliance. When everyone was active and keyed into what UW wanted to do, they were able to stifle the Huskies offense and force them to take tough shots.
The Cougs had their third-worst shooting performance of the season from deep against UW, but they still had an overall solid offensive showing. They had a 47.5% effective field goal percentage, which is not great at all, but they won the shot volume game. They shot the ball seven more times than UW and took five more free throws, helping them make up for their less efficient night from the field. WSU was able to do this by grabbing 15 offensive boards and only turning the ball over nine times. The standout offensive strategy was getting the simple middle entry passes to Gueye and breaking down the zone from there. The Cougs had their second-lowest three-point attempt rate of the season, but they got a lot of shots right around the basket. Kyle Smith always seems to scheme for the zone well and it was no different against UW in Pullman.
Those middle entry passes were there all night for the Cougs and it will be interesting to see if UW adjusts to take them away. Gueye was feeling himself on these little turnarounds and it felt like he rarely missed on these looks.
Gueye also showed a lot of growth as a decision-maker. UW tried to speed him up with double teams or increased pressure, but he was able to stay under control and make plays. This is impressive growth that we likely would not have seen from Gueye early in the season.
Early on, UW left one big in the middle of the zone to guard both Gueye and Abogidi. If the big stepped up to take away Gueye’s jumper, then the baseline cut for Abogidi was open and the dunks were immaculate.
UW sold out to take away the big-to-big dump-offs, but that opened up some shooters around the arc for open threes. Gueye again flashes good decision-making by making this read and Flowers knocks down the three.
When it was not Gueye in the high post, the Cougs weren’t as effective. Noah Williams had his moments in the high post, but other than that the Cougs struggled. A part of this is that everyone else playing in the high post is a smaller target than Gueye and the entry passes are harder. WSU is not a great passing team and UW was able to swarm and take away these passes with smaller targets in the middle.
UW, for a team that runs a ton of zone, is not always the most disciplined zone team and they can be beaten with simple zone busters. This play is commonly called “runner” where the ball swings from one wing to the other and the original passer runs to the opposite corner. The goal is to get the wing in the 2-3 up guarding the ball and leaving the corner wide open, it works perfectly for WSU here.
UW gives up a lot of offensive rebounds and the Cougs took advantage of that well. In these high post sets, the low big can get into offensive rebounding position with simple duck-ins and it leads to easy layups or free throws quite often.
When UW goes man, they switch almost every ball-screen. While the WSU guards are not great at exploiting mismatches against bigs, two of our bigs are great at attacking mismatches against guards. Here, Dishon Jackson gets the smaller Brown on him, and he finds the easy look in the post.
This post-up against mismatches does not always work though. Efe Abogidi is not great at exploiting smaller players in the post and the Cougs should sometimes continue to run their offense even if they are getting mismatches through switches.
UW sometimes pulled out an effective press that sped the Cougs up. The Cougs do not do well when they are not playing at their pace and running their offense. The UW press got some of WSU’s worst decision-makers in the open court.
The Cougs sometimes just get overeager. Here, Abogidi sees 7’4 Riley Sorn standing under the rim, and his only thought is highlight. The press put the ball in Abogidi’s hands at the half-court line and it led to exactly what UW wanted.
Players to Watch
Terrell Brown, Jr. had an up and down game against the Cougs in Pullman, but he is still UW’s best player. The question of his potential translatability to the next level is an interesting one. He is unlikely to get drafted to the NBA, but his composure as a point guard and elite touch around the rim help project him as someone who could eventually find his way into the league if the shot comes around.
Riley Sorn is one of those players who I cannot help but root for despite him wearing the purple and gold. I went to high school with Sorn and the 7’4 gentle giant is mesmerizing to watch sometimes. It is rare for someone to make other D1 basketball players look small and Sorn can do just that. He is a solid defender and has his moments finishing plays when Brown sets him up properly.
Jamal Bey has taken a step back in production from last year, but he is still a vital player for UW. He is one of the best shooters on the team, shooting 35% from deep for his career, and he uses his 6’6 frame well on defense. He has been at UW for four seasons, and he could potentially get some professional looks after this season.
Jackson Grant was a four-star recruit and McDonalds All-American from Olympia last season. His freshman year under Mike Hopkins has been quiet, but he still has a lot of potential long-term. He was the 78th ranked player in his class and the 6’10 big is a skilled offensive player. The jumper has yet to translate, but he could torment the conference for years to come.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
Noah Williams did not have a huge offensive game against UW in Pullman, but he looked like an All-Pac-12 caliber defender on Wednesday night. He had to guard the leading scorer in the conference, and he did an excellent job. He glided around screens, pressured the ball, and contested every single shot. Brown could not create any separation and it kept UW’s offense out of a flow. If Williams does that again, the Cougs should leave Seattle with an Apple Cup sweep.
Mouhamed Gueye had his biggest game of the season on Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see if he can match it again. He showed plenty of touch from the mid-range, his decision-making was incredibly encouraging, and he looked the most comfortable he has in a Coug uniform. His play on defense was also impressive, guarding Jamal Bey for large stretches on the perimeter and making him work for every bucket. Gueye has a chance to make a push up NBA draft boards with a few big games down the stretch of the season, it will be a blast to see if he can work his way into draft consideration by the end of the year and help pull the Cougs to the postseason as well.
Efe Abogidi also had a huge game against UW on both ends. He had 21 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, a steal, and he shot 77.8% from the field and 87.5% from the line. He did it all for WSU and he will have to do that again in Seattle. He crashed the glass hard on both ends, moved well without the ball, and deterred a lot of UW’s finishers at the rim. Gueye and Abogidi are a truly elite defensive duo on the interior and UW felt their presence around the rim.
What to Watch For
Defensive scheming is hugely important for Smith and the Cougs in this one. The zone was generally unsuccessful against UW, though it could work better if they shoot a little worse from deep, and they gave up a few too many advantageous matchups while in man. UW is a worse offense than they played in Pullman, and that is partially because the Cougs often played into their hand. Keeping Williams on Brown makes sense, as he did an excellent job, but staggering Tyrell Roberts and Michael Flowers more could help by improving WSU’s overall size and keeping bigger wings from getting matched up on WSU’s small guards.
Adjusting to their adjustments is the other major key for the Cougs. UW seemed to buy into the idea that Gueye was not the high post scorer and decision-maker he turned out to be in the last game. This was a sound bet, as Gueye had never shown to be as patient and controlled as he was against the zone, but UW was slow to adjust in-game. There is little chance that they let Gueye get that many simple high post touches in this one, and the Cougs will have to be prepared to run other types of offense against the UW zone. The runner play worked, but they might have to mix in some horns zone plays or some other zone busters that we didn’t see on Wednesday. Beating the zone is something Smith is great at, but this team has proven poor at adjusting before.
Question of the Game:
Will Gueye or Abogidi top their scoring totals from Wednesday’s game?