FROM PULLMAN — We're seated on press row at Beasley Coliseum, where Washington State will try to win its second consecutive game in a late start against Arizona State tonight. We have a few things to watch after the jump, so read on.
Last time the Sun Devils were here, they scored eight points in the first half of a blowout loss, the kind of performance that made everyone wonder how WSU had lost to them in Tempe. To say things have changed since then would be a bit of an understatement. The Sun Devils are one of the Pac-12's biggest surprises this year, thanks in large part to the addition of point guard Jahii Carson, the renaissance of senior forward Carrick Felix and more production from 7-foot center Jordan Bachynski. ASU plays man-to-man defense now, an approach that suits the quickness of Carson, who is capable of setting the game's tempo on both ends of the floor. I spoke with Junior Longrus earlier this week, and he mentioned that he'd played a couple of AAU games against Carson. The first word that came to mind when I asked him to describe Carson's game: “quick.” … Ken Bone said earlier this season that it seems they're running up against more and more 7-footers and frontcourt players who possess the kind of length the Cougars don't. Well, ASU's roster lists two 7-footers (Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev), and Bachynski has developed into a pretty intimidating defender in the paint. Evidence: he blocked 12 shots in a game earlier this season. … So, who's the most important player for the Cougars tonight? Well, Mike Ladd and Brock Motum usually fit that bill. And they're certainly both essential. But I think a guy like D.J. Shelton becomes more important in a game like this one. He's struggled from the perimeter recently, but Bone has said he still wants Shelton to shoot from long range, so long as he's taking good shots. If he can get going and stretch ASU's interior defenders out a little bit, that will help offset Bachynski's presence down low. And the Cougars just need someone to hit consistently from the outside, period. Shelton, somewhat surprisingly, leads the team in 3-point shooting at 37 percent (Will DiIorio actually shoots a higher percentage, but he's only attempted eight shots from the outside, so we'll exclude him from this conversation).
We'll be back after the game, though it may be a little later than usual with the tight deadline tonight and all.