SEATTLE – In retrospect, it makes sense to believe Washington State couldn’t have been entirely prepared for the way Washington defended Brock Motum back on Jan. 5.
WSU’s level of competition prior to that game wasn’t exactly a gauntlet – included in that stretch were Jackson State, Buffalo and Idaho State, to name three – and few, if any, of WSU’s nonconference opponents managed to defend Motum in a particularly creative or bothersome way.
Then came the Cougars’ Pac-12 opener against Washington, which assigned forward Desmond Simmons to front Motum and deny him the ball whenever possible. The 6-foot-10 senior finished with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting, but the Cougars struggled to find open looks for him and they lost 68-63 despite wiping out an early 17-point deficit.
This time, coach Ken Bone thinks his team knows what to expect. WSU (11-17, 2-13 Pac-12) visits Washington (15-13, 7-8) at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“I’m not sure (the early schedule) prepared us for a Pac-12 game against a team like Washington and the way they guarded Brock,” Bone said. “I think here we are two months down the road, we’ll be more prepared for it if they’re denying him the ball.”
That’s because just about every one of the Cougars’ Pac-12 opponents have tried some variation of said defense. They’ve either fronted Motum, the team’s leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, or double-teamed him, or played some type of man-and-a-half approach where a player guards Motum 1-on-1 and other defenders help on him when he drives to the basket.
“If they take me away, other guys will look to attack,” said Motum, who scored 20 points last week against Arizona and played an aggressive style not seen from him in a while. “If they help off me, other guys can just finish. We’ve got some things in place, and hopefully they go well.”
If they go as well as the Cougars hope, they’ll leave their eight-game losing streak in Seattle. WSU’s last win was on Jan. 26 over Oregon State, and its current slide is the school’s longest since a 14-game skid in 2002-03.
The Cougars have three remaining chances, counting today, to avoid a 2-16 conference record for the first time since that 2002-03 season.
“I just think we need a win to prove to ourselves that all this hard work is worth something,” said sophomore guard DaVonte Lacy. “We’ve been working so hard in practice and the games are showing we’re working hard. We’re competing. It just sucks we can’t get wins.”
A win at Hec Ed would be particularly gratifying for Lacy, a Tacoma native who grew up watching – but not necessarily rooting for, he clarifies – the Huskies.
WSU hasn’t beaten UW since 2011. If the Cougars’ 4-game losing streak in the series doesn’t end, it won’t be because they’re not prepared for the extra attention on Motum.
“That caught us off guard because a team hadn’t done that before,” Lacy said. “When they did it, I think other teams scouted it and did the same thing, and we’ve been playing against it ever since. I think we’re a lot better prepared for what we’re going to see. I don’t think that will affect us as much as it did the first game.”