PULLMAN – Washington State no doubt cleared a major hurdle Thursday night, beating California by a healthy margin to snatch its first Pac-12 Conference win and put a six-game losing streak to rest.
One down, 14 to go.
The Cougars beat the worst team in the conference on their home floor in what many would’ve considered the most winnable game on their Pac-12 slate. WSU will see 10 teams that should push them more than the Golden Bears, including the one making a visit to Beasley Coliseum on Saturday at noon (Pac-12 Networks).
But Stanford (8-9, 1-4), under third-year coach Jerod Haase, has encountered many of the same problems Cal has – and for that matter, many of the ones the Cougars experienced before making a long-awaited return to the Palouse this week.
The combined road record of WSU and the Bay Area schools is 1-16.
The Cougars, who still haven’t slipped up at home in eight tries this season, will see another golden opportunity to dispatch a Pac-12 foe when the Cardinal come to town. If Thursday’s game against Cal was the most winnable one on the schedule, the game against Stanford may be second on that list.
Haase and the Cardinal haven’t won outside of Palo Alto since the second game of the season at UNC Wilmington. They lost a sixth straight road game on Thursday, 80-64 at Washington.
It’s no surprise Stanford, an 18-win team last year that notched 11 Pac-12 victories, has struggled to get off the ground in 2018-19. The Cardinal were supposed to return the conference’s best big man – and perhaps best player – until 19 point-per-game forward Reid Travis transferred to Kentucky in the offseason.
That’s required Stanford to go elsewhere for points and rebounds this season.
KZ Okpala, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, is leading the Cardinal in both categories, at 17.9 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Daejon Davis, the former Seattle prep star who played for Cougars assistant Ed Haskins at Garfield High School, is also be on WSU’s radar after scoring double figures in eight consecutive games before an eight-point effort in his homecoming game at UW.
The Cardinal have height at both guard spots – Davis is 6-3 and Bryce Willis is 6-6 – and they go 6-9, 6-9, 7-0 across the frontcourt. WSU coach Ernie Kent said the top priority for his team will be to keep Stanford “off the boards.”
“That’s a huge, huge game of blocking out and rebounding the basketball,” Kent said. “… You can’t get in transition if teams are scoring the ball, and you’re going to get into trouble if they’re getting second-chance points – where they’re rebounding and scoring – because now you’re susceptible to fouling, and you’re certainly not going to get out and run as much.”
The game will feature two of the conference’s top three scorers. Okpala’s average sits at third among Pac-12 qualifiers and WSU’s Robert Franks boosted his league-leading average to 22.3 after a 24-point outing against Cal.
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