There’s one given tonight. It’s the one thing WSU has to do if it wants to win. Read on.
• Score more points than Arizona. OK, a lame attempt at humor. But there is a grain of truth there. This isn’t going to be a 42-40 game. There’s a good chance it won’t be 82-80 either. Somewhere in between lies the final score, with the more it trends toward the 40s, the better chance the Cougars have. The first battle in Tucson was headed that way with WSU holding a 28-23 halftime lead, a 39-32 edge more than 6 minutes into the second half and then all heck broke loose. With the McKale crowd upping the decibels, the Cougars wilted, yielded a 16-0 run, part of a 24-2 stretch and the score ended up 66-56.
Which brings up our one point. When Arizona ups the pressure, whether in the full court or half, the Cougars have to stay aggressive. Meet fire with fire so to speak. It’s obvious the Wildcats will trap – interim coach Russ Pennell called handling pressure WSU’s Achille’s heel this week – and try to force the Cougars to make poor decisions. They certainly did in Tucson – anyone remember stepping OB two possessions in a row? WSU coach Tony Bennett and his staff have given the players the tools they need to attack the traps – if they execute them – so their mindset is key. Stay aggressive, attack, keep the offense balanced and take a good shot. Do those things and the UA pressure shouldn’t take the same toll.
And that segues into the two key players tonight. Someone has to step up and allow Taylor Rochestie a break or two. At times this season he’s broken down due to fatigue. If anyone, Marcus Capers, Klay Thompson, Mike Harthun, anyone, can give him a minute or two rest – not even bench time, but a rest from handling the pressure – the Cougars will be better off down the stretch. Then Daven Harmeling has to stay in the game. The biggest reason WSU was up 39-32 with about 16 minutes left in Tucson was Harmeling was making Chase Budinger work for his shots. When Harmeling left with his fourth foul, Budinger went off. Against Harmeling a majority of the time, he was 1 of his first 11 from the floor. After Harmeling sat, he had seven points in 3:30. Plus, Harmeling helped immensely with pressure release for the guards, giving WSU a fourth ball handler. If he plays well, stays out of foul trouble and hits a few shots, WSU’s hopes go up.
• That’s it for this now. We’ll be back at halftime with some thoughts. Until then …