The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

WSU to play ranked matchup in Arizona

No. 21 Cougs have chance to prove they belong
Myles Rice drives to his left and past an Arizona defender, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

No. 21 WSU men’s basketball (20-6, 11-4 Pac-12) is finally ranked after 16 years without a nod from the AP Poll. Their first game ranked is against the only other ranked Pac-12 team, No. 4 Arizona (20-5, 11-3 Pac-12).

The Cougs have played only one ranked matchup so far this season, a home win against then-No. 8 Arizona. That win kicked off the Cougs recent stretch of success, it being the second win of a 10-1 run.

To beat Arizona again, they will need to be nearly perfect. The Wildcats have not lost a game at home this season, and their stars have only gotten better since they played in Pullman.

Caleb Love is the Wildcats best player, averaging 18.8 points per game. That is an improvement of 1.1 points, a significant jump considering that it has been more than a full month since then.

Senior center Oumar Ballo has seen his rebound numbers increase, scoring 13 points per game but grabbing 9.8 rebounds, up 1.5 from last time the Cougs played. Nearly putting up a double-double a night, Ballo has been a force inside all season.

Ballo, Love and the rest of the Wildcats just beat Arizona State by a score of 105-60. They played 14 players deep in the win and had six score in double-figures, led by bench guard Jaden Bradley who had a career high 21 points.

Clearly, Arizona is a formidable team. With depth at every spot and an offense that is tied for first in the country at 90.7 points per game, the Wildcats are objectively the better team. Thing is, that was also the case last time in Pullman, and last year in Arizona. The Cougs managed wins both times, and the answer to this matchup likely lies in those games.

The Cougs played some of their best defense of last season against Arizona, holding them to 16% from 3-point range and 31.7% from the field. The next win was much of the same, with Arizona shooting 34.7% from the field and 29.2% from outside.

While allowing last year’s star, Azuolas Tubelis, and this year’s star, Love, to score 29 and 28 points respectively, the Cougs still managed to successfully slow the Wildcat offenses in their wins. Ballo and fellow senior Pele Larsson are the biggest names returning from last season for Arizona, and both have been neutralized by the Cougs in those games.

Ballo scored 11 in both games on identical shooting: 4-of-11. He missed more free throws than he made in both games as well.

Larsson has not been terrible in either game, but has been held below 10 points and below 38% shooting in both games. He ended up in foul trouble in Pullman, gathering four and also throwing four turnovers.

Starting point guard and team assist leader Kylan Boswell has been held both scoreless and assistless in each game, providing only a turnover and a pair of fouls in the most recent matchup.

Clearly, this defensive approach is working. The best players will almost always do damage. By focusing on stymieing the supporting cast, the Cougs have managed to keep the Wildcats from going nuclear as they so often do.

Offensively, WSU needs more of the same. Last win saw 24 points from Isaac Jones and an 18 point, 5 assist performance by Myles Rice. That performance is great, but is nothing special for the Cougs, who have seen good games like that from those two and others on a weekly basis this season.

This is WSU’s chance to skyrocket. They first entered the national conversation when they beat an Arizona team that was lower ranked than they are now — another win would put the Cougs easily into the top 20, and potentially into the low teens.

A win would also put the Cougs on top of the conference, while a loss puts them likely out of contention for that first spot. In the final year of this version of the Pac-12, WSU is playing for a chance to lead the pack. 

With the game being on national television, the eyes of the country will be on the Cougs for the first time since they became relevant. This is their chance to make their mark, all they need to do is take it.

They will look to seize the opportunity when the game tips-off at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. It will be broadcast on FS1.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor
Hayden Stinchfield is a senior in Criminology from Washougal, WA. He is considered by some experts to be the greatest to ever spot birds. Hayden began working at the Evergreen in fall 2022, and became Sports Co-Editor in summer 2023.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.