LOS ANGELES – For Washington State this season, beating Oregon State has been as easy as 1-3-1.
As in, beating the Beavers’ 1-3-1 zone, a staple of their defense under coach Craig Robinson.
They haven’t relied on it quite as much this year, but the Cougars’ ability to break OSU’s 1-3-1 pressure for easy baskets was key to their 83-73 victory over the Beavers the last time these teams met on Feb. 9 in Corvallis, Ore.
“We had a lot of ball fakes against them, more secure and safer with our passes,” WSU guard Marcus Capers said. “We prepare so much better for them, because it’s different than anything you ever see.”
They’ll get their third look at Oregon State at noon today on Root Sports in the opening game of the Pac-12 tournament at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“It’s just a unique defense,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “It’s nice to have a couple days to review what we’ve already seen.”
What they’ve already seen includes two wins over Oregon State, one of two Pac-12 teams the Cougars swept during the regular season. USC was the other.
But it almost goes without saying that those two wins have little impact on today’s matchup, especially given the way OSU (17-13) finished the season, sweeping Utah and Colorado last weekend to head into the Pac-12 tournament with some momentum. WSU is coming off an ugly 43-38 win over USC.
Oregon State features Jared Cunningham, the conference’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. Cunningham scored 33 points against WSU on Feb. 9.
If the Cougars (15-15) play as well against OSU’s 1-3-1 as they did in Corvallis, they should be fine. They shot 51.9 percent from the field in that game, receiving 24 points and nine rebounds from Brock Motum and a season-high 11 assists from Reggie Moore.
After Moore sliced OSU’s zone and Motum, Capers and Abe Lodwick poured in a handful of easy buckets in transition, the Beavers switched to a different defense for much of the second half.
“We all just need to play our game,” Moore said. “Like coach said, there’s really no perfect offensive sets to run against it. Just everybody playing how they play.”
Of course, there’s the matter of trying to beat a team three times in the same season, the difficulty of which has been the subject of much discussion ever since James Naismith nailed the first peach basket to a gymnasium wall.
Bone said the difficulty of beating a team three times is only enhanced if the winning team becomes overconfident.
“That is not the case with us,” Bone said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Oregon State. We know how good they can be. They’ve shown it against every team in our league.”
Capers said the team has talked about their chances of winning the Pac-12 tournament, reiterating that there isn’t a team in the conference the Cougars haven’t been able to compete with this season. WSU would play Washington at noon Thursday if it wins today.
“As long as come in with the right mindset, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be playing more than a couple games while we’re here,” Capers said.
“We’ve been working hard for months, and the reality of it is, if you’re hot at the end and you’re healthy, you have a chance to win,” Bone said. “And it makes it exciting.”