PULLMAN – DaVonte Lacy caught pass after pass, moving from the corner to the wing to the top of the key, jumping, flicking his wrist and releasing shot after shot after shot prior to Washington State’s practice on Tuesday.
If this is what it takes, the sophomore guard said, so be it.
“I need something to get out of this funk,” Lacy said, using his shirt to dab sweat from his forehead.
The Cougars (9-7, 0-3 Pac-12) need him, too. WSU hopes to get Lacy and the rest of its offense back in rhythm when it faces Utah at 6:30 tonight at Beasley Coliseum.
Like WSU, the Utes are winless in Pac-12 play. But it’s easy to see they’re an improved squad. Utah (8-8, 0-4) had a chance to win its first three Pac-12 games – Arizona and UCLA among them – which were lost by a combined total of eight points. And coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team plays some of the best defense in the Pac-12, leading the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 36.5.
“They just plug the paint up,” said WSU forward Brock Motum. “So I think if we hit shots, they won’t be able to play that defense in the paint the whole time. I think if our shooters hit shots, we’ll be able to stretch it out.”
That’s what the Cougars have been waiting for. WSU made just 11 of its 35 attempts from 3-point range during losses to Stanford and California on the road last week, including a 4-for-18 effort in Saturday’s loss to Cal.
And Lacy, who has proven at times to be WSU’s most capable scorer behind Motum, hasn’t made a 3-pointer since the Cougars’ Dec. 29 win over Idaho State.
If he and the Cougars’ other guards can make shots from outside, that might open things up for Motum, who commands a great deal of attention from opposing defenses. Utah’s gameplan will likely account for Motum above all others.
“Every game’s kind of a new storyline on how teams are guarding Brock,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “And we’ve got to be ready for everything.”
“They do a lot of switching,” WSU point guard Mike Ladd said of Utah’s defense. “So I feel like we’ll have a lot of mismatches. It’ll probably be a little better to get Brock the ball if they’ve got a mismatch on him. If we come off a screen and have a big on us, we can probably attack, create off the dribble.”
The Utes present an opportunity for the Cougars to snap a 3-game losing streak that began with a 68-63 loss to Washington on Jan. 5, the last time WSU played at Beasley.
Three Utah players average double-figure scoring, led by the 13.3 points per game of guard Jarred Dubois.
“They’re a much improved team,” said Bone, who complimented the leadership of Utah forward Jason Washburn. “I think all in all they have better personnel, without a doubt, and they’re just playing better basketball.”
Indeed, the roster looks much different than it did last year when Utah won just six games. Dubois is a transfer from Loyola Marymount. The Utes’ second-leading scorer, Jordan Loveridge, is a freshman, and Utah’s roster features nine freshmen or sophomores, along with nine players who transferred from other schools.
One of those players, Dallin Bachynski, a 7-foot transfer from Southern Utah, helps the Utes in their effort to clog the paint and prevent opponents from easy looks at the rim.
WSU had 11 of its shots blocked against Cal on Saturday. A more clever approach may be necessary.
“I think I was just playing a little quick in my head,” Motum said of his 5-for-14 shooting performance last week. “I just need to slow down a little bit, use some jump-stops, some fakes, different moves and I think I’ll be good.”