Cougs to play a couple of tough ones in the Rockies

Men’s basketball will travel to Utah and Colorado



WSU forward Andrej Jakimovski celebrates after defeating Stanford 60-59, Jan. 14.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU men’s basketball (9-10, 4-4 Pac-12) is on a tear lately, winning four of their last five games. The margin of victory in those wins has been almost double digits, and some players are on serious hot streaks. Now, looking better than ever, the Cougs will get another try against Utah, as well as a first look at a good Colorado team that has a big win over Oregon.

Looking first at Utah, a lot has happened since the Cougs last faced them back at the start of December 2022.

Back then Utah had only two losses. They now have seven, with those new five coming at the hands of BYU, No. 14 TCU, Oregon, No. 5 UCLA and USC. None of those are bad teams, with BYU probably being the worst loss for Utah in that span.

Leading in scoring for Utah on the season is center Branden Carlson at 16 per game. In Pullman earlier this year he managed 7 points and fouled out in only 19 minutes of play. With any luck, that matchup with Mouhamed Gueye will continue to be a nightmare for other teams’ star bigs as it has been all season.

Gueye has proved himself to be able to both guard and score on some of the best bigs in the country, scoring 20 and drawing several of those fouls on Carlson in the aforementioned Utah game and having 24 against Arizona’s Oumar Ballo.

With Carlson playing poorly on the Palouse, Rollie Worster led Utah in scoring with his season-high of 19. He has only scored 8.7 points per game on the season, but the Cougs need to be careful and not let him go off against them again.

It is no coincidence that the WSU game was his season high, the Cougs have consistently struggled to stop fast guards that look to score this season. Worster is also a good passer, so it will take more than just focusing on stopping his scoring, but the recent defensive improvements for the Cougs should make it possible to bottle him up better.

Colorado is an opponent the Cougs have struggled with in the last couple of years, winning only one of the last four matchups, but their last meeting was a huge victory by the Cougs. The final score was 70-43 with everyone contributing to the blowout for WSU.

Second in scoring for the Cougs that game was Andrej Jakimovski with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double that came with a side of three steals on 50% shooting from three-point range. Jakimovski has gotten back into a rhythm these last few games and he is looking likely to repeat or exceed that previous performance.

Leading in scoring for Colorado this year is sophomore guard KJ Simpson with 17.8 points per game. Another small guard the Cougs will need to lock up. The hardest matchup will likely actually be Tristan da Silva, a 6-foot-9 forward who is scoring 14.7 per game and leading the Buffs in steals. The Cougs have no one defender who matches up well with him and no one scorer who does so either, so it will have to be a team effort to both stop him and score on him.

It would not be a huge surprise to see another test of the Adrame Diongue/ Gueye lineup that sputtered out early in the season. Diongue has been playing much better as of late and has properly settled into his role as a backup center. Sliding him to play alongside Gueye could potentially create a good mismatch offensively for Gueye, and Gueye has looked phenomenal on defense lately and is likely the best option against da Silva.

Both of these teams are hard opponents, there is no doubt about that, but if the Cougs can manage to sweep this road trip they will be sitting nicely around the upper-middle class of the Pac-12. The schedule only gets harder from here, so this will be a very important time to keep it together and win at least one of two.

The Utah game starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by a 3 p.m. tipoff against Colorado Sunday. Fans can watch the first on the Pac-12 Network and the second on ESPNU or the ESPN app.