Men’s basketball set to host Utes

WSU men’s basketball team faces Utah to start their two-game homestand after losing three straight; team will face Colorado on Saturday

Sophomore+guard+Noah+Williams+prepares+to+take+the+shot+from+the+free-throw+line+against+MSU+on+Dec.+18.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Sophomore guard Noah Williams prepares to take the shot from the free-throw line against MSU on Dec. 18.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

After a tough four-game road trip, the WSU men’s basketball team will return home and face the University of Utah Runnin’ Utes at 7 p.m. Thursday at Beasley Coliseum.

The Cougars (9-4, 2-4) visited each of the conference California schools in the past two weeks for a four-game road trip. WSU went 1-3 during this span and are now on a three-game losing streak.

WSU head coach Kyle Smith said the games against USC and UCLA last week were tough matchups against great teams. Smith is ready for the team to set the right foot forward toward the win column this week at home for the first time in the new year.

“Hopefully we move in the right direction heading into this week with Utah and Colorado coming in here,” Smith said.

Senior guard Isaac Bonton has been on a hot streak offensively ever since conference play resumed in late December 2020. In the five games after the Cougars’ non-conference schedule finished, Bonton averaged 23 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three.

However, the Cougars are 1-4 in their past five games. Smith said he does not plan on adjusting Bonton’s role in the offense despite the struggles as of late. The main issue for the team is their digression on defense, Smith added.

“The main part is we’re not defending well,” Smith said. “[Bonton] is making really good decisions, playing with a really good pace, poise.”

WSU’s past three opponents have shot 49, 54, and 46 percent from the field, in order. These field goal percentages are the top three highest percentages of any WSU opponent so far this season.

Freshman center Dishon Jackson said the team’s issues also lie in the turnover department. WSU’s season-high in turnovers as a team is 17, which the Cougars have reached three times – two of which were in the past three games.

“I think sometimes we get worried about offense a lot, so that’s just why we have to clean it up,” Jackson said. “The translation on the defensive end [is our opponents] get easy points just off our mental mistakes.”

Utah (5-6, 2-5) comes into town with struggles of their own, as the Utes are 1-5 in their past six games. In fact, the Utes have a similar situation with their scoring offense with junior forward Timmy Allen.

Allen is the leading scorer for the Utes for the second straight season and has been playing well as of late. He averages 22.5 points per game in the past four games, where the Utes went 1-3 during that span – which included an upset victory against Stanford.

Smith said Allen’s talent will give the Cougars another challenge on defense, in terms of who to match up against him. Stanford senior forward David da Silva and the Mobley brothers from USC gave WSU issues near the hoop in both games.

“We have to have a lot of different ways to guard [Allen], whether it’s Efe [Abogidi], Tony [Miller], Aljaz [Kunc],” Smith said. “I got to have size and can move.”

Allen will likely be one of the lone scoring threats for Utah. Sophomore guard Rylan Jones had a fantastic performance against the Cougars last year in the only matchup between both schools. He scored 24 points, one point below his career-high, and shot 80 percent from the field when he played WSU.

Jones has taken a dip this season in production with just 5.7 points per game on below 40 percent from the field. Once again, WSU’s main focus on defense will be in the forward position.

As far as the players who are still in COVID-19 protocol for WSU, sophomore guard Ryan Rapp and sophomore forward DJ Rodman, they will not be available for this week’s pair of home games. The two may return next week, Smith said.

ESPN listed WSU as the 1.5-point underdog against Utah despite being at home. WSU’s last win against Utah was back in 2014.

Fans will not be allowed to attend the game because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, the game will air on the Pac-12 Networks at 7 p.m. on Thursday.