We here in McKale Center getting ready for the teams to take the floor. It's awful early, kinda like a summer tournament with kids. Had a nice chat with Bill Rafferty about Tony Bennett, Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto – plus the Cougars' postseason chances. Read on for the morning links and our pregame post.
• We'll start with the links, kicking off our coverage with our advance, which ran with some more notes on this post last night. ... Freelancer Howie Stalwick had his advance in the P-I and other papers. ... From Arizona, there's this story from Patrick Finley in the Daily Star, and Steve Rivera's story from the Tucson Citizen. ... Let's switch gears for a second for some football stuff, including Jim Moore's column in which he takes Steve Sarkisian to task. Molly Yanity also has this UW recruiting story.
• Now back to basketball. Take a look at the Pac-10 standings. It's a jumble. The Cougars are just two games out of first, and just a game out of ninth. If they win today, there's a chance they could be in fourth when the day is out. The flip side is if they lose, they could be tied for seventh. All of which makes this a big game.
So what do they have to do to prevail? The best thing they have going for them is this game is in Tucson. The Cougars have been nails on the road this Pac-10 season, bonding together off the court and taking that camaraderie onto the court. Then there's the WSU defense, which has started to come together the last couple games. The transition defense has to be near perfect this morning because Arizona is on a roll offensively. The Wildcats have been getting up and down the court with impunity the last two games. If WSU can slow them down, force them to execute in the half court, then they've won a big part of the battle.
But not all of it, as last year showed. With Jarryd Bayless penetrating with a reckless disregard to the Cougars' pack, UA got enough open looks from long range to blow out WSU here. Well, Bayless is gone, and with him went that threat. Nic Wise is good, but not that good. If Taylor Rochestie keeps him from the paint, then the rest of the Wildcats should have a hand in their face when they rise up to shoot. One defensive note: expect the Cougars to switch late ball screens a lot more this morning than they have all year.
• Offensively, Rochestie was just joking Thursday when he said all the Cougars needed was Thompson to score 28 each night. But they do need the freshman to be a threat and to be consistent from the tipoff to the final buzzer. He's had some great first halves this season, then faded. Against ASU, he actually picked up his game in the final 20 minutes. WSU should get its shots. The Wildcats have played a lot of 1-1-3 zone this season, and the Cougars have proven they can attack a zone. Expect UA to press, using a 2-2-1 zone, then fall back into its halfcourt defense. But I wouldn't be too surprised if they played a lot more man today.
Whatever the Wildcats do, WSU has to take care of the ball as they have lately. No one has turned them over much since the UW game – we know how that turned out – and that's been a big key in their success. Take care of the ball, win the tempo battle. It's that simple. One other thing. WSU has to get at least a draw on the boards. If Jordan Hill starts living on the offensive glass, the Cougars are in trouble.
• That's it for now. We'll be back at halftime with our usual post. See you then ...