The Washington State men's basketball team's trip to the desert wasn't the cleansing experience often experienced by participants at Burning Man or those on various spirit quests. Rather, WSU's offensive drought was more reminiscent of one Wile E. Coyote — always chasing that blasted bird but always one step behind.
A DaVonte Lacy sighting proved to be a mirage, and it's anyones guess when the Cougars leading scorer will return and provide some offensive relief. We'll recap WSU's road trip in full, after the jump.
Most Valuable Player: A new star. If there's a bronze lining (the silver markets are rebounding) to Lacy's absence its that its forcing future go-to Cougar Que Johnson into the spotlight. After a timid performance at Arizona (five shots, three points) the freshman assumed the scoring burden against ASU once Lacy left. His 15 second-half points came on the road, in the Pac-12 against a guard-heavy team. That's a great performance for a senior, and the fact that it came from a freshman means that WSU will have at least one dominant scorer for the foreseeable future.
Story of the Trip: Offensive offense. The Cougars scored a superlatively low 72 points on the trip. Granted, they played all but a few minutes without their best player, and were missing starting wing Dexter Kernich-Drew against Arizona. The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in the country, have a fearsome crowd and and even scarier defense. Still, seven points in one half of basketball is historically bad and the Cougars won't win a conference game if they can't figure out a better way to get the ball in the basket, because what they're trying now isn't working.
Best Surprise: With Lacy out and Kernich-Drew out and then limited, the Cougars had minutes to spare. Forward Junior Longrus benefitted the most, and played well for the Cougars. Against Arizona he was the team's leading scorer, albeit with just six points. Against the Sun Devils the sophomore named Junior had seven rebounds, five offensively, and had four steals for the Cougars.
Biggest Disappointment: Outside shooting. The Cougars are built to be dangerous from the perimeter. They start a power forward, D.J. Shelton, who is fourth on the team with 42 3-point attempts this season. Lacy, Johnson, Kernich-Drew and others are all threats to spot up and shoot from the perimeter. So far this season, however, only Lacy and Johnson are threats to make those shots. The Cougars have hit 99 of 319 from deep this season for a 31 percent clip, and that's with Lacy going 37 of 91. Without him, the Cougars went 2 of 12 against Arizona and 5 of 17 against the Sun Devils (5 of 19 with Lacy's two misses). With no threat to score from the outside, teams have been able to pack it in against the Cougars.
Where do the Cougars Go From Here: It doesn't get much easier for the Cougars, who won't even have the friendly confines of Friel Court to look forward to upon returning home. WSU's next game is in Spokane against No. 15 Colorado, which climbed five spots after knocking off then-undefeated Oregon last week. The team's home opener comes on Sunday against Utah, the 12-2 team that took Oregon to overtime.