PULLMAN – It would be accurate to say Washington State’s efforts from the 3-point line have rescued and doomed the Cougars at certain points of the 2020 season.
Few teams in the Pac-12 are better at guarding from beyond the arc than the Cougars, who’ve allowed a conference-low 161 3-pointers in 28 games and are limiting opponents to 32%. The other side of that equation is WSU’s 3-point shooting average, which at 30.8% is lowest in the conference and 298th in the nation, of 350 teams.
“It’s just an emphasis,” Smith said of the 3-point defense. “I’ll dial it back to the analytics part. What we value in practice the first five weeks. I looked at our KenPom every year. We obviously emphasize it, but it’s part of our defense. We always usually run you off the 3 a little bit, expose you in some other areas, but that’s an important part is guarding the 3.”
As for the 3-point offense: “We need to make a few, too.”
The Cougars (14-14, 5-10) are aiming for a season sweep of Washington (13-15, 3-12) on Friday when the cross-state rivals meet at 6 p.m. in Seattle.
During a four-game skid, the Cougars’ 3-point numbers haven’t been encouraging on either end of the floor.
That’s especially the case in the three games the Cougars have played without injured point guard Isaac Bonton, who grades out as the team’s top perimeter defender and is also WSU’s highest-volume 3-point shooter, next to CJ Elleby.
The Cougars have allowed just three opponents to shoot better than 45% from 3.
The others were USC, which also made 50% at Galen Coliseum two weeks ago, and Stanford, which connected on 47.8% at Beasley Coliseum on Sunday. Cal finished with a 3-point clip of 35.7% in a 66-57 win four days earlier.
Even less effective than the 3-point defense was the 3-point offense. The Cougars made 16 of 81 (19.7%) 3-pointers in losses to Stanford, Cal and USC and shot below 25% from the field in each of those games – something they’d done just seven other times this season.
Elleby, the team’s top scorer, recovered from a personal shooting slump against Stanford to make 4 of 9 from the 3-point line, and had a personal-best 34 points on a career-high 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first meeting between the Cougars and Huskies.
“I’m pretty confident they’re going to be in their zone and they extend it out pretty far as it is,” Smith said of UW. “If they’re going to move it out to 40 feet away, it’ll be interesting.
“But they do a good job and CJ threw in a couple long ones, which you’re going to have to against them to beat them. You’re going to have to make a couple that are so long and quick.”
Another key is getting Bonton back after a three-game hiatus. The junior went through pregame warm-ups on Sunday before returning to the bench in street clothes. Smith said the team’s second-leading scorer has been cleared to practice this week.
“Feeling confident he’s close to playing,” Smith said. “Expect him to, where I would say I was hopeful Sunday. … Medical people thought it was probably best that he (had) another couple days’ rest, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
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