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Cougars hope to leave the Bay Area with a split

Washington State wasn't able to beat Stanford on Friday but can still have a successful road trip.

Pac-12 road wins are a big deal no matter what teams they come against, particularly for a program that hasn't had one in nearly two years. To beat California tomorrow the Cougars will need to start the game like they did against Stanford and avoid a similar letdown.

Hitting a few free throws would help, too.

Fortunately for the Cougars that's not a concern, yet, since WSU still ranks No. 4 in the conference in free throw average, hitting 72 percent this season, even after missing 15 of them yesterday.

There was a lot to like for the Cougars, too. Jordan Railey looks more comfortable on the court than I've ever seen and that new confidence has produced a more fluid, coordinated player capable of making positive basketball plays on both ends of the court.

That the Cougars were mostly competitive despite a subpar game from Lacy is ultimately an encouraging development, and Josh Hawkinson's ability to make a big impact record a double-double without actually making a field goal is sort of remarkable.

"It's a step in the right direction but that doesn't mean much in this conference," Lacy said. "It's a step in the right direction but we've got to take bigger steps to get where we want to get to. It's something to build off, of course, but we're not here for moral victories. We're here for actual victories."

Missed free throws were killers yesterday for the Cougars, and they were uncharacteristic.  You don't expect to see DaVonte Lacy miss the front end of a one-on-one, but when he did it likely took two points off the board. If WSU hit at its normal clip it might have been able to weather Stanford's second-half runs and make a game of it at the end.

One might expect free throws to play a key role in tomorrow's game against California, given new coach Cuonzo Martin's professed desire to instill a sense of physicality and toughness in the Golden Bears. That's certainly been the rhetoric, anyway, with Martin telling reporters at Pac-12 media day that the three things he talks to players the most about are passing, rebounding and playing hard.

He said, "Personally, my style is a level of toughness, defend, rebound, play hard … I've never really been a zone (defense) guy. We will be playing zone until we get to the level that we need to be defensively as far as our man-to-man is concerned."

"He's a coach that comes out of a conference down there in the SEC that's a physical, tough conference, everybody is big, strong," said Ernie Kent on Saturday. "And we sometimes get the reputation out here of being a finesse conference, in football too, but that's not always the case. There's a reason this conference puts so many people into the NBA: because it's really skilled. Guys know how to shoot it out here, too."

Tyrone Wallace has certainly embraced his coach's mindset and in turn has become one of the most improved players in the conference. A 6-foot-4 guard with a huge wingspan, Wallace leads the Golden Bears in points (19.1), rebounds (8.7) and assists (4.1).

The Cougars won't change the way they play much to counter Cal's physical style. But you may see some personnel tweaks. Brett Boese has played well offensively and gives the Cougars player with a big enough body to match up with posts offensively and the ability to stretch the floor offensively with his shooting.

I wouldn't be surprised to see even more of Boese tomorrow and, while Kent said that Railey started in part because of the matchups Stanford presented, I expect Railey will play a fair amount tomorrow as well.

Trevor Dunbar will likely continue to get chunks of minutes in the hope that he'll play well enough to stay on the floor. Dunbar is the team's quickest player and Kent believes he's the only one of the team with enough speed to change the game's dynamic simply by being on the floor.

I think Kent likes having him come off the bench to immediately increase WSU's tempo when it's needed and I don't think Ny Redding is in any danger of losing his spot to Dunbar.  But WSU's offense bogged down yesterday when neither guard was in the game, so the more Dunbar can play the better.

WSU will play at Cal tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.   

Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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