After taking both games from the Washington schools on the road earlier this season, Utah has a chance to do the same thing at home on Sunday when the Washington State Cougars (9-15, 1-11) visit the Huntsman Center. A win would make the Utes 4-0 against the schools from Washington this season and would help bolster their postseason resume. With the Cougars struggling to get into the win column as of late, Utah has pretty good odds to do just that.
Washington State is reeling, having lost ten in a row and 13 of their last 15 games. Despite their futility, Washington State has not given up on the season and continue to show good effort on the court. On Wednesday they took a solid Colorado team into double overtime in Boulder before just falling short of the win.
Former Oregon coach Ernie Kent is in his second season in Pullman and has struggled to match the success he had with Oregon in the early 2000's. Washington State basketball is mired in yet another losing season with not a lot of hope on the horizon. The Cougars best player is a senior, Josh Hawkinson, averaging 16 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game. Hawkinson is a nice player in the post, but is not a dominant presence like Utah's Jakob Poeltl. Last time out against Utah Hawkinson hada good game scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds, but it was not nearly enough to hold off the Utes, as Utah cruised to a 92-71 win in the Palouse.
Guard Ike Iroegbu is Washington State's only other consistent scoring threat, though junior guard Que Johnson has put together some nice games as of late. Washington State's lack of scoring depth has been a large contributing factor to their struggles this year. With no consistent third scorer Hawkinson and Iroegbu have to be hitting on all cylinders for the Cougars to win a game. When a third player or more gets hot Washington State is a much more difficult team to beat as was evidenced their lone Pac-12 win against UCLA, when the Cougars had five player score in double figures.
Coming off a disappointing double overtime loss, it's difficult to see the Cougars putting together a great game against the Utes on Sunday. Not only does playing a double overtime game fatigue a player physically, but mentally, coming so close to breaking through for the first time in ten games and falling short, could cause a hangover effect. Utah will have the home court on their side as well in this game which does not bode well for a Washington State team which has not won on the road this season.
Utah has history on their side with an 18-4 all time record against the Cougars including a 13-1 mark in Salt Lake City. Utah is 12-1 at the Huntsman Center this year and after a tough road trip seems to be getting back on course with some home cooking. Utah shot very well against Washington, shooting a season high 67% from the field. Lorenzo Bonam bounced back from some disappointing performances to score 18 points, Kyle Kuzma dished a career high seven assists and Jakob Poeltl notched his ninth 20-point effort of the season, scoring 23 points.
If Utah can continue their hot shooting on Sunday and play good defense they should have no problem picking up their eight conference win of the season. Even if Utah is not able to match their performance against Washington, it's hard to see the Cougars mustering up enough to escape the Huntsman Center with the win. Utah is a better coached team with better players and will be at home.
Tip off is set for 3pm on Sunday. You can watch the action Pac-12 Networks where Ted Robinson and Bill walton will have the call or listen on ESPN700 with Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto.