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

Stanford win proves WSU’s defense is legit

Kyle Smith experience in full effect
WSU+center+Oscar+Cluff+looks+for+a+pass+during+an+NCAA+men%E2%80%99s+basketball+game+against+Stanford%2C+Feb.+17.+2024%2C+in+Pullman%2C+Wash.
COLE QUINN
WSU center Oscar Cluff looks for a pass during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Stanford, Feb. 17. 2024, in Pullman, Wash.

One thing about No. 21 WSU men’s basketball (20-6, 11-4 Pac-12) 72-59 win over Stanford (12-13, 7-8) stood out: the defense. It’s been the thing that really has stood out the entire season, after all, it’s head coach Kyle Smith’s bread and butter. 

WSU held the Cardinal to 59 points, a team that averages 77.5 points per game got held to nearly 20 points behind their season average. They shot just 43% from the field and 33% from three, roughly 5% lower than their season average. 

The Cougs had 13 stocks (steals plus blocks), led by Oscar Cluff with an astounding six. Cluff used his hands to block three shots from the opposition and poke the ball free three times for steals. Cluff’s defense has improved immensely over the course of the 2024 season, using his hands to disrupt the ball at all levels, no longer needing to be taken out for defensive possessions. 

“It’s all piecing together right now. The whole team is playing defense together well,” Cluff said.

Defense is the underappreciated piece of the puzzle to the common fan. You can point to the 11-0 run the Cougs went on as the offense catching fire to create that lead, but it also relies on the defense getting stops and forcing bad shots. 

“The beauty of this team is that we trust each other. We have confidence,” Andrej Jakimovski said. 

Especially since the defense in the first half starkly contrasted that of the second half, sometimes it can go unnoticed. In the first half, Stanford scored 36, shooting above 50% from both the field and from three, all while capitalizing on their paint presence with 16 points in the paint and 1.200 points per possession. 

The team that came out in the second half proved to be a different monster, holding Stanford to just 23 points. 

Contrasting the first half play, WSU held their opposition to just 0.793 points per possession, a 33.3% field goal percentage and 12.5% three-point percentage. While they still managed 12 points in the paint, they had a gooseegg in terms of points off turnovers. 

“Our second-half defense was tremendous. Just a tremendous effort on our part,” Smith said.

A lot of the defensive prowess the Cougs possess can be attributed to associate head coach Jim Shaw, who has adapted the defensive game plan around his healthy and active players throughout the season. 

“I have the human cheat code,” Smith said to the Spokesman-Review.

Shaw and Smith’s defensive schemes have worked. WSU is second in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game at 69.5, opponents shoot a Pac-12 second-worst 43.5% from the field and good luck on the glass, as opponents average just 23.2 defensive rebounds a game, second behind Colorado in Conference play.

Obviously, there is a lot of credit to be deserved for the offense. Four players scored in double-digits in the win over Stanford, with Cluff adding 8 and Kymany Houinsou adding 7 off the bench. 

There is depth in this roster. While Myles Rice and Isaac Jones are near locks to score 10-plus day-in and day-out, the rest of the team also has that daily potential. Jaylen Wells has had a long streak of double-digit performances, Jakimovski has 20-point potential on any given night and there are several bench pieces who have the kind of hot stroke to make a huge difference. 

 “We have a really good team. All five guys, six guys, maybe seven guys can go for double-digits,” Jakimovski said. 

A well-rounded team, WSU’s net efficiency is second-best in the Pac-12 at 0.133 overall and 0.061 in Pac-12 play. With 20 wins and a No. 21 AP ranking, the team is getting recognition, but it’s all in a day’s work.

“We appreciate it, but we’re just taking it day by day, game by game,” Jakimovski said.

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About the Contributors
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.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.