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WSU Men's Basketball

Washington State checks in at No. 19 in new AP Top 25, jumping two spots

WSU forward Oscar Cluff goes up for a shot against ASU during Saturday's game in Tempe, Arizona.  (Courtesy of ASU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Even after Washington State’s last loss to Arizona State over the weekend, it didn’t seem like the sky was falling for the Cougars.

AP Top 25 voters confirmed as much on Monday, ranking WSU No. 19 in the latest poll, boosting the team two spots from last week. The Cougs earned the promotion in the rankings by toppling then-No. 4 Arizona on Thursday , which voters seemed to value over their loss to ASU two days later.

WSU (21-7, 12-5 Pac-12) now sits a half-game behind Arizona for first place in the Pac-12.

Arizona (21-6, 12-4), which dropped two spots to No. 6 in Monday’s poll, reclaimed first place in the Pac-12 with a win over Washington on Saturday.

For WSU, it is the Cougars’ highest ranking since mid-February 2008, which is the same year the Cougs last made the NCAA Tournament, a drought of 16 years, one of the longest among Power Five schools. Washington State, even with its Quad 2 loss to ASU on Saturday, is on track to snap that streak.

In Monday’s poll, WSU received one vote as high as No. 13 and two at No. 14. The most popular vote came at No. 21, where 13 voters slotted the Cougs, who also got six votes at No. 17. WSU was left off the ballots of five voters, 11 fewer than last week’s poll.

One voter appeared to mistake Washington for Washington State, voting the Huskies (15-13, 7-10) at No. 22, their only vote in the poll. It did not affect WSU’s ranking in any way. That vote would have given the Cougars four points, for a total of 365 – not nearly enough to eclipse No. 18 South Carolina, which received 471 points.

First-place votes are worth 25 points, second-place votes are worth 24 and so on until No. 25 votes, which are worth one point.

WSU closes the regular-season with three straight home games, beginning Thursday against USC, then UCLA on Saturday and Washington on March 7.

The Cougars need to win out and have Arizona lose at least one of its last four games to capture a share of their first Pac-12 regular-season title since 1941. Then WSU will have an opportunity to win its first conference tournament, which runs March 13-16. The Cougs are on track to earn a first-round bye, which goes to the top four seeds, meaning they would likely begin play on March 14, a Thursday.

If the current standings were to hold, second-seeded WSU would play the winner of seventh-seeded ASU and 10th-seeded Stanford.

Then it is likely on to the NCAA Tournament, with WSU in line for a No. 5 seed, according to ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi, who posted his latest update Monday . That seems to be the consensus around the Cougars, who are a No. 6 seed according to JBR Bracketology.

Chinyelu earns honorWSU freshman Rueben Chinyelu is the Pac-12 freshman of the week, the conference announced Monday, handing Chinyelu his first career weekly honor.

Chinyelu played a key role in helping Washington State upset Arizona, posting his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, playing critical defense on UA center Oumar Ballo in 28 minutes, also a career-high. Chinyelu sank 6 of 7 shots in that win. He also blocked two shots , moving into sole possession of second place in WSU freshman block history, behind DeAngelo Casto in 2009.

That makes two Cougs who have earned Pac-12 freshman of the week honors: Chinyelu and guard Myles Rice, who has earned the award seven times this season.