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

David vs Goliath: Can MBB find magic in Tucson once again

Cougs riding high after AP No. 21 ranking
Myles Rice hangs on the rim after the anthem plays, Feb. 15, in Pullman, Wash.

Last season, a sub-.500 WSU men’s basketball team infiltrated one of the hardest places to play in college basketball and beat a then-No. 5/4 ranked Arizona Wildcats team on their hardwood. This season, they beat then-No. 8 Arizona in Beasley 73-70, their second win in a 10-1 stretch of games leading into this weekend. 

Now, No. 5 Arizona (20-5, 11-3) has a chance to earn their revenge for both of those losses. Hosting now-No. 21 WSU (20-6, 11-4), it’s a battle for first place in Pac-12 and it is a battle of David vs Goliath in terms of program pedigree. 

“We have some guys on the team that have won there. There’s no doubt you got some good juju, as they say,” head coach Kyle Smith said. 

Physically, it is more likely that WSU is the Goliath in this story, as Smith runs out the tallest starting lineup across college basketball, according to College Basketball Report

While the team proved capable of beating Arizona on the road last season, the team looks far different this year. Only 18 of the 74 points they scored in the win returned to the team, that is just 24.3%. Jabe Mullins accounted for 13 of those returning 18 points, with Andrej Jakimovski scoring 3 and Kymany Houinsou scoring 2. 

Still, there is an air of confidence from the returners as they head back to the place they played spoiler just over a year ago. 

“I mean, we beat them once. We know what we have to do,” Jakimovski said. “We know it’s going to be hard at their place. We’ve been there before. We’ve won there.” 

Again, the Cougs can help spoil a so-far great Wildcats season, as they are a perfect 13-0 in their house. They’ve averaged 90.7 points per game overall on the year and average a scoring margain of 17.8 points per game, but the Cougs have already beat them once. 

“They’re just a really talented team and have a great atmosphere,” Smith said. “Pressure’s a privilege.”

If there were a more perfect David than the Cougs, it would be hard to spot them out. In the win in Beasley from earlier this season, they held Arizona to 1.01 points per possession, their lowest since they played Princeton last season. 

They also have done it before, granted only five times have they ever gone into Tucson and come out with a win, but no one expected them to do it last year. That’s no different for Thursday’s matchup. Smith’s team only has a 6.8% chance of winning, according to ESPN

The same team that beat the Wildcats in two different locations over two seasons. The same team that already has a win on the season over Arizona. The same team that is second in the Pac-12, the closest team to Arizona in the rankings and the standings. Still, they’re given less than a 7% chance. 

“We’ve done it before, but it’s the hardest place to play in the country,” Smith said. 

Being an underdog is nothing new to Smith or anyone on the team. After all, they were all overlooked in one way or another. 

Now, nearing the end of the regular season, they are already a team that will stand the test of time in WSU program history, and they are en route to doing more historic things. The No. 21 ranking is the first AP ranking since 2008, if they finish strong and make the NCAA Tournament, it will be the first appearance since 2008.

Freshman guard Myles Rice tied Evan Mobley’s record of Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards, something he has the chance of breaking with a few weekends left in the season. 

With Rice winning this past week’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Week and Isaac Jones winning his second Pac-12 Player of the Week award, the Cougs became the first and only school in Pac-12 history to sweep the weekly awards twice in one season. 

Players are aware of the history they are making, it is hard not to be. But, they do their best to take it day by day and game by game. 

“It’s hard not to see all the things that are on social media,” junior forward Jaylen Wells said. “We like to look at it one game at a time, coach Smith preaches that.”

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About the Contributor
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.