LAS VEGAS – When the losses piled up for the Washington State Cougars in the latter half of the men’s Pac-12 season they were of little consequence.
As WSU’s record (10-20, 3-15 Pac-12) spiraled and its chances of earning an invitation to any postseason tournament went the way of the mid-range jumper, postgame joy or sorrow became the Cougars’ only stakes.
But the Pac-12 tournament is survive and advance time for WSU, which will continue to have a season as long as it can keep winning. And as long as the Cougars keep winning, beleaguered coach Ken Bone will continue to have a job.
“Our backs are against the wall and sometimes you end up in a situation where that brings the best out of you,” Bone said. “We’ve approached it that way, we’ve talked about it. If we want to keep going, which we do, obviously, we’ve got to bring it tomorrow night against a good Stanford team.”
Beating the Cardinal (19-11, 10-8 Pac-12) will be a tough task for the Cougars. It certainly was in their previous two matchups, a pair of whippings in which WSU’s late season 69-56 loss was a marked improvement over the 80-48 debacle in January.
While WSU can claim that its back is against the wall, Stanford should have no shortage of motivation. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir gave coach Johnny Dawkins an ultimatum before the season that the team needs to make the NCAA tournament for Dawkins’ job to be secure.
Currently a team on the cusp of getting an NCAA tournament invite, a loss to 11-seed WSU could throw a wrench in Stanford’s postseason plans.
The Cardinal have a pair of newly-minted All-Pac-12 players in guard Chasson Randle and post Dwight Powell. Still, WSU’s task begins with stopping Anthony Brown, who the conference coaches recently named the Pac-12’s most improved player.
Brown’s resume for the award was built at the Cougars’ expense. The junior swingman scored a combined 45 points against WSU this season and made 13 of 17 shots.
“In my opinion he’s one of the best scorers in the Pac-12,” said Junior Longrus, one of WSU’s premier defenders. “He’s about 6-foot-6, athletic, he can shoot so you have to respect all aspects of his offensive game.”
While No. 3 Arizona (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12) enters the tournament as the Pac-12’s only ranked team and therefore prohibitive favorite, it is Oregon that likely inspires fear among conference coaches.
The seventh-seeded Ducks (22-8, 10-8) went undefeated in their nonconference schedule and were ranked as high as No. 10 in the country. An inexplicable slide seemed to doom the Ducks midway through conference play, but UO is on a seven game winning streak including victories over UCLA and the Wildcats.
Like Stanford, Oregon is a team that may be attractive, but likely needs a win or two this week to assure itself a spot in the NCAA tournament.