PULLMAN – Since Washington State beat Washington in Pac-12 men’s basketball in Seattle two months ago, the Huskies have seen their NCAA tournament hopes flushed, booted their best player and lost their last seven games.
When Robert Upshaw was dismissed, UW lost a foundational defensive player who still has 10 more blocked shots than any other Pac-12 player, that after three weeks of not playing.
When the Huskies dismissed Upshaw they ranked No. 8 in defensive field-goal percentage nationally, stifling opponents who made just 36.5 percent of their shot attempts. In the five games UW has played without the 7-footer, every team has shot at least 49.1 percent from the field against the Huskies.
So, the UW team the Cougars face this weekend lacks the teeth of the 11-3 outfit WSU beat in Seattle, and now the Cougars get them at home. But WSU coach Ernie Kent contends, or at least says to keep his players’ guards up, that the Huskies present a harder matchup without their defensive stalwart.
Because of Upshaw’s dismissal as well as an injury to starting forward Jernard Jarreau, the Huskies play small lineups almost exclusively and have experimented with playing five guards at once. Jarreau missed 10 games but is expected to play today.
“I think they’re a better scoring team because of having the guards on the floor,” Kent said.
“They’re a quicker team, faster team up and down the floor. I would almost want to say a better defensive team on the perimeter, but they don’t have the inside presence.”
When the Cougars beat the Huskies, Upshaw wasn’t a difference-maker and having a plodder in the middle actually hurt the Huskies, who were unable to keep up with the Cougars. Kent revved up the Cougars to limit Upshaw’s impact, and it worked.