Jan. 25—PULLMAN — Washington State looks to bounce back at home against a highly ranked opponent that the Cougars stunned on the road earlier this month. The visiting Arizona Wildcats will have revenge on their minds.
WSU (9-12, 4-6 Pac-12) dropped games at Utah and Colorado last weekend. Before their letdown against the two, the Cougars had been on a three-game winning streak, which began when they toppled No. 5 Arizona in Tucson on Jan. 7.
The 74-61 win over the Wildcats marked Washington State's first road win in program history over a top-five opponent and snapped Arizona's 28-game winning streak at McKale Center.
"We had some success doing certain things (in that game), but they also got a lot of good looks that they missed. We were fortunate," WSU coach Kyle Smith said Tuesday. "I'll be honest. It was a great win, but they are looking at film going, 'We got some good looks. We don't need to change what we do.' "
Now ranked sixth, the Wildcats (17-3, 6-3), who boast the nation's No. 10 offense according to KenPom.com's efficiency rankings, are coming off a home sweep over USC and UCLA. Arizona clipped No. 5 UCLA 58-52 on Saturday.
WSU hosts Arizona at 8 p.m. Thursday at Beasley Coliseum. The Cougars' most recent home win over the Wildcats came in February 2010. WSU is 0-9 against Arizona in Pullman since then. The Cougars are 2-16 in the series since sweeping Arizona in the 2009-10 season.
"Hopefully, our psyche isn't damaged too much from the road trip (last weekend) and we can compose ourselves and get a little healthier and give a good effort Thursday," Smith said. "Both of these teams are tremendous coming in."
The Cougars will entertain Arizona State (15-5, 6-3) at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Sun Devils defeated WSU 77-71 on Jan. 5 in Tempe, Arizona.
A sweep of the Arizona schools would breathe new life into a WSU season that has been unpredictable. The Cougars have been up and down throughout the year, with a handful of impressive wins mixed in with deflating results and a few close losses to high-tier opponents.
"We've proven that we can play with a lot of teams, good teams, whether it's UCLA at home (a one-point loss Dec. 30), Baylor on the road (a six-point loss Dec. 18)," Smith said, "and, obviously, Arizona on the road. It'd be nice if we can bring a great effort. ... It's just part of building our program. We have had some unfortunate health things. We bit off a lot on our schedule, trying to get this program up a level."
Two WSU captains play through injuries
Standout center Mouhamed Gueye had his worst game of the year on Sunday in a 58-55 loss to Colorado. The 6-foot-11 sophomore captain was held scoreless for the first time this season. He shot 0 of 7 from the field.
Gueye played with a tweaked hamstring, Smith said.
"When it's a hamstring (injury), it can be tricky," Smith said. "I don't really know with him, because he's such a stud. He didn't make an excuse at all. He knows he didn't play well. He's rare in this day and age. He's a guy that will try to play, no matter what. I know some guys that are in his position, where he's got a (professional) future to look after ... some guys will not (play). I really appreciate him for doing that."
The Cougars' top rebounder (7.9 per game) and No. 2 scorer (13.3 ppg), Gueye is cleared to play against Arizona.
" 'Mo' is kind of the rising tide. He brings all the ships," Smith said. "We need him to be the impactful player, offensively, that he can be and has been."
Gueye put together one of the most impressive performances of his career in the first meeting with Arizona, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Two of the Pac-12's best big men will square off Thursday when Gueye matches up against Arizona's Oumar Ballo, who averages 16.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
"Ballo is a massive human being," Smith said of the 7-foot, 260-pounder.
The Cougars occasionally send out a jumbo-sized lineup that includes Gueye and 7-foot true freshman Adrame Diongue, whose productivity has seen an uptick in recent weeks.
"It's just a matter of Adrame emerging as a guy that is getting better each week and each game," Smith said. "(When) we play them together, that makes us a lot better defensively. We haven't been as good offensively, but Adrame's going to be a really good player in time. ... He's easy to play with, as far as he's throwing some great back-door (passes). He can function out there offensively. We should be a better offensive rebounding team with those two out there."
Smith expects to employ the two-center look in spurts against Arizona in hopes of limiting a talented frontcourt also featuring forward Azuolas Tubelis, an All-Pac-12 player who leads the conference in scoring at 19.9 ppg. The 6-11, 245-pound Tubelis tallied 29 points and 14 rebounds in the first game against WSU.
"Tubelis is one of the best players in the country," Smith said.
Cougars guard TJ Bamba returned to the lineup against Colorado after missing the previous three games with a nondominant hand injury. Bamba, a captain and the team's leading scorer (15.2 ppg), scored a team-high 18 points against the Buffaloes.
"It was nice to have Bamba back and just guarding the ball, stopping the ball in transition," Smith said of the junior, who is WSU's strongest perimeter defender. "He was tremendous. He really gave us a chance to win that game. ... He's the one guy on our team that can really get to the basket and score. He put us on his back a little bit, got us in the lead (late), but we weren't able to get the stops we needed to finish that thing off. He's a captain. He's our leader, and hopefully he keeps getting better."
Bamba had his left hand wrapped on Sunday and will likely have to play through the injury for the foreseeable future, Smith said.
"It's gonna wear on him. It's not 100%, but he played great," Smith said. "We obviously missed him against Utah.
"We need Mo and Bamba. They don't have to play all-league caliber, but they both have to play pretty well. We count on them a lot."
3-point struggles glaring in sweep
WSU still ranks atop the Pac-12 in 3-point makes (8.6 per game) and percentage (36.1%), but Cougars shooters were off the mark in the losses to Utah and Colorado.
The Cougars appeared to force shots and went 10 of 39 on 3-pointers in those two games. WSU hit 31 of 76 (40.8%) from long range during its three-game winning streak.
"Colorado really bothered us with their pressure," Smith said. "We turned it over 17 times. We had too many one-pass possessions, but that was attributed to their pressure. Utah is really good at guarding the 3, but gosh, I thought we had some good looks.
"We gotta get tougher and fight for shots a little better."
The Cougars' top 3-point shooters, guards Jabe Mullins and Justin Powell, are in the midst of cold spells. Mullins is 2 of 11 from 3 and averaging 6.3 points over the past four games. Powell is 2 of 10 from distance and averaging 6.3 points in the past three games. The two combined for 14 points shooting 0 of 3 on 3s against Colorado.
"A little bit of it is we've been playing through Mo, and he struggled," Smith said. "If he struggles, that allows teams to lock up a little bit on those two. On the road is tough. Justin and Jabe are like any college guys. They are in really prominent roles, where they haven't been in for a while. That's part of the growing process, learning how to deal with a hard scout on the road."
Mullins, a junior Saint Mary's transfer, leads the Pac-12 with a 47.1% mark (40 of 85) from 3. Powell, a junior Tennessee transfer, has hit a team-high 43 3-pointers on a solid 38.4% clip.