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Formidable task at hand for WSU against Arizona

Washington State guard Mike Ladd, left, and Arizona forward Grant Jerrett (33) fight for a loose ball. (Associated Press)
Washington State guard Mike Ladd, left, and Arizona forward Grant Jerrett (33) fight for a loose ball. (Associated Press)

Wildcats currently tied with Oregon for Pac-12 lead.

TUCSON, Ariz. – With his team riding a seven-game losing streak and entrenched in the Pac-12 cellar, Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone knows what he wants to see against a talented Arizona team this afternoon.

It’s a matter of principles. Defensive principles. The kind of things “we’ve worked on all year that I felt were not real good the other night at ASU,” Bone said.

Of course, the Cougars (11-16, 2-12 Pac-12) likely have to play their best game of the season at McKale Center Saturday at noon to hang with the No. 12 Wildcats, who are currently tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings.

And they’ll again have to do it without senior guard Mike Ladd, who will miss his fourth consecutive game with a left knee injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Even with Ladd (though he was limited by foul trouble), WSU couldn’t overcome a first-half deficit in a 79-65 loss to Arizona in Pullman on Feb. 2.

In that game, Wildcats forward Solomon Hill made six first-half 3-pointers, Arizona led 40-26 at halftime and even the absence of ejected forward Kevin Parrom – he was tossed after tossing an elbow into DaVonte Lacy’s head – had little effect on the outcome.

The Cougars know they’re short-handed. They know McKale is unkind to visitors. They know the Wildcats (22-4, 10-4) are as talented as any team in the conference.

“It’s definitely not getting any easier,” Bone said.

So the focus is on the little things.

“Boxing out, shifting on defense, getting through screens,” said Lacy, who has scored in double figures in five of WSU’s last six games. “It’s not about coaching or anything, it’s just about heart and want-to. Because if you don’t want to get screened, you won’t get screened. If you don’t want to get boxed out, then you won’t get boxed out.”

“I think we can scout any plays they run, but it’s all for naught if we don’t execute common defensive principles – contesting shots, getting through screens,” said senior forward Brock Motum. “All that stuff, if we just stick to normal fundamental defensive principles, you can take a lot of things away from other teams without even knowing the scout.”

Arizona’s scout won’t be hard to decipher. Its key targets will be Lacy, Motum and sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, three players who have scored 77.5 percent of WSU’s points in the three games Ladd, the team’s second-leading scorer, has missed.

Lacy jokingly credited Parrom’s flagrant elbow for sparking his run of improved 3-point shooting, saying he might thank the Arizona senior for “knocking some sense into me.”

“I kind of want to thank him for getting me out of that slump,” Lacy said.

Now the Cougars – who have lost by an average of 7.3 points during their losing streak – just need to get out of theirs.

“I think if we don’t give up any big leads early it’ll be a close game in the end, and we’ll just have to execute at the end of the game,” Motum said.

“We’ve lost how many games in a row? And we’re still so close to all these teams. I’m sick of saying ‘we’re so close,’ or ‘we’re just losing,’ because at the end of the day we’re still losing. I think once we do find a way to win, we can reflect on that. I think the taste of victory will do us a lot of good. Hopefully we can do that (Saturday).”