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WSU Men's Basketball

WSU rewind: Even after loss to ASU, Cougs have lots in front of them

WSU guard Myles Rice dribbles up the floor during Saturday’s game against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.  (Courtesy of ASU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Sometime on Friday evening, a day after No. 21 Washington State toppled No. 4 Arizona for perhaps the best win in program history, coach Kyle Smith got a message from his wife.

Katie Smith had sent Kyle a video WSU had released, a 5-minute cinematic recap of the game, complete with radio calls from local broadcaster Matt Chazanow and thunderous string music. It wasn’t exactly a movie, but it felt like one, especially considering the gravity of what the Cougars had accomplished.

Anyway, Kyle wasn’t exactly thrilled to see the text.

“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Smith said on Saturday evening, a few minutes removed from his group’s 73-61 loss to Arizona State, a disappointing setback for his group. “It’s nuts. I love her to death, but you know we gotta be focused on Arizona State. It’s hard. It’s hard to move on from that.”

Katie’s message likely came from a good place, but for Washington State it underscored one theme that Kyle himself said played a factor in WSU’s loss to ASU: When the Cougs took the court in Tempe, not 48 hours had passed since their win in Tucson, and it’s possible the team didn’t have as much in the tank.

Two of WSU’s most important players, starting forward Isaac Jones and reserve guard Kymany Houinsou, both missed Saturday morning’s shootaround feeling under the weather. Both ended up playing – in fact, they turned in two of the team’s best performances – but it was clear the Cougs didn’t have the same level of energy as they did two days prior against Arizona.

“That was a huge win. I don’t know, maybe we let it get to us too much,” Jones said. “I feel like we kinda relaxed today, which we shouldn’t have. When you come off a big win like that, you’re supposed to be locked in for the next game, and we just weren’t.”

That reality came to fruition almost immediately. WSU lost seven turnovers in the first eight minutes, which allowed ASU to race to an 18-6 lead, the kind of start a bottom dweller like the Sun Devils could really use. Before they knew it, the Cougars were playing from behind, which they haven’t done much of this season.

Even when they rallied, like with an 8-0 run to start the second half, the Cougs couldn’t make it count. Jones recorded 16 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double in nearly a month, and Houinsou posted 9 points and 5 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent WSU from losing its eight-game win streak.

For WSU (21-7, 12-5), there were tons of problems, and lots of them fed into each other in the worst ways. The Cougs yielded 11 rebounds for 16 second-chance points, allowing ASU – statistically one of the worst rebounding teams in the country – to pull away as WSU struggled to string together stops.

“Just playing from behind a little bit,” said Smith, whose team made just 3 of 18 shots from beyond the arc. “I think we were a little extended and like I said, they’re quick and they get by you. But it was more like they extended the possessions with some loose balls, I thought. I’d have to look at the film.”

But for WSU, good news came from the loss when Sunday morning arrived. ASU moved up in the NET rankings, from No. 136 to No. 126, improving WSU’s loss from Quad 3 to Quad 2. That leaves the Cougars with this resume for the NCAA Tournament.

AP ranking: 21

NET ranking: 36 (down from 28)

KenPom ranking: 37

Quad 1: 5-3

Quad 2: 4-3

Quad 3: 4-1

Quad 4: 8-0

Around the web, WSU’s seeding outlook didn’t take much of a hit. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi sees the Cougars grabbing a 5 seed, same as he did before they lost to ASU. CBS Sports projects WSU to earn a 7 seed. The most problematic part of the Cougs’ loss is they’ll have to work harder to earn a chance to land at the Spokane NCAA Tournament – but they could still do so.

The Cougars close the regular season with three straight home games: Thursday against USC, March 2 against UCLA and March 7 against rival Washington. Here are a few projections, from Barttovik.com, to simulate what WSU’s tournament outlook could look like:

• 3 wins to end regular season, one win in Pac-12 Tournament: 6 seed

• 2 wins to end regular season, one win in Pac-12 Tournament: 7 seed

• 1 win to end regular season, one win in Pac-12 Tournament: 10 seed

• 0 wins to end regular season, one win in Pac-12 Tournament: 11 seed

• 0 wins to end regular season, 0 wins in Pac-12 Tournament: Out

These could change based on the opponents WSU beats or loses to, but in short, the only way WSU might miss the NCAA Tournament is if the group loses out – which looks like a stretch. The Cougs are 13-1 at home this season. They’ll be favored in all three of their final regular-season games. They’ll have lots of opportunities to treat this loss to ASU like they did their last setback, to Cal: By rattling off more wins.