Cougs host bears

WSU 14-30 all-time against Cal; Cougs won last two meetings

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COLE QUINN

Stanford University forward Max Murrell (10) attempts to block a layup by WSU guard Michael Flowers (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 13, in Beasley Coliseum.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen sports editor

It will be a battle near the bottom of the Pac-12 as WSU men’s basketball (9-7, 2-3)  returns to action on Saturday against the California Golden Bears (9-8, 2-4).

The Cougars are coming off of a poor showing on Thursday against Stanford. That game started off in a strange way with nearly an hour delay due to COVID-19 testing and protocols. 

The Cougs would go on to take a commanding 35-26 lead into the halftime break. However, the second half went much worse with Stanford outscoring WSU 36-22 to win 62-57. 

“I thought our second half tonight was our second worst half of the year,” said Kyle Smith, men’s basketball head coach, following the loss. 

WSU has only won one of their last four games, with a win against Utah and losses to Stanford, Colorado and Boise State.

On the other end of things, California comes in on a three-game losing streak. The streak began with two tough home games against No. 5 USC and No. 3 UCLA.

The most recent loss came on Wednesday in Seattle with a 64-55 loss to the Huskies. Similar to the Cougs, the Golden Bears went into the half with a lead. After being up 34-27, California dropped the game 64-55. 

“We didn’t play well in the second half,” said Mark Fox, California’s men’s basketball head coach. “Our defense wasn’t as good. We turned the ball over another eight times in the second half. And we couldn’t score.”

The Cougs will have to rely heavily on their big men against California. The Bears’ leading scorer this season has been 6-foot-9-inch Andre Kelly. Kelly also leads the team in blocks and rebounds. Kelly currently sits as the only player in the Pac-12 that is in the top six for points per game, rebounds per game and shooting percentage.

Defending Kelly will fall on the shoulders of 6-foot-10-inch Efe Abogidi and 6-foot-11-inch Mouhamed Gueye. 

Gueye is coming off of a great performance against Stanford, recording two new career-highs with 16 points and 11 rebounds. It was Gueye’s second career double-double. The first came against Weber State during nonconference play when he put up 14 points and 10 rebounds. 

“I’m starting to get comfortable now,” Gueye said after the Stanford game. “I understand my role. I’m just out here playing hard and grabbing rebounds.” 

A big part of his success came from keeping himself out of foul trouble, recording no personal fouls for the first time in his collegiate career. In 16 games this season, Gueye has fouled out once and recorded at least three fouls on 12 occasions. 

The Golden Bears are going to try to win this game with defense and rebounding. California currently ranks 53rd in the nation in defensive rebounding (compared to WSU at 150th) and are 41st in the nation in scoring defense (compared to WSU at 68th).

Both teams are holding opponents to shooting percentages below 41%. WSU does however have a better average rebounding margin, grabbing 5.5 more boards per game than their opponents, compared to 3.6 more per game for California.

WSU will also have to deal with the backcourt duo of Jordan Shepherd and Joel Brown. The pair have the top spots in assists on the team and combine to average nearly 20 points per game. Brown missed the Washington game due to an undisclosed illness, and it is unclear if he will be able to play against the Cougars. 

The Cougs will be without Dishon Jackson, who Smith says is dealing with an eye issue that will “take some time.” DJ Rodman and Matt DeWolf are likely to not be in the rotation either after missing the Stanford game due to COVID-19 protocol. 

Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. Saturday Jan. 15 inside of Beasley Coliseum. For those who can’t make it to Pullman, the game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.