About Last Night: Cougs fall hard at Utah

WSU loses 80-58. We've got thoughts.

Good morning. As time allows for the rest of this season, I’ll whip up some quick thoughts on the previous night’s game.

Onward!

The Cougs opened up the Pac-12 season with 20 very good minutes that were followed by five superb minutes. After those first 25 minutes, WSU held a 42-37 advantage over Utah, and kenpom’s win probability model put the Cougs’ chances of closing it out at roughly 50-50.

The final 15 minutes were maybe the worst 15 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen as Utah outscored WSU 43-16 the rest of the way to close out a comfortable 80-58 victory.

Gross.

In A Minute

  • CougCenter recap

  • Stats

  • Highlights

  • Line o’ the night: Oscar Cluff with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists — which should tell you what kind of night it was for the offense, which scored just 0.87 points per possession despite rebounding nearly half of its misses. Big yikes.

  • One stat to tell the tale: Against a team that will give up lots of 3s, the Cougs doomed themselves by shooting just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc, including 2-of-12 in the second half. Their last make came with 9:32 remaining. Utah, meanwhile, hit 7-of-11 from deep in that torrid second half. Ballgame.

Three Thoughts

1. I read nothing into losing at Utah

Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy piece about a few paths back to the NCAA Tournament. Not sure if you noticed, but none of them included a win at Utah last night. Here’s why:

That’s 20 losses over 21 games across 71 years. Seventeen of those losses have been by double digits. It’s well established that Utah has one of the best home-court advantages in the country, but this is some kind of crazy voodoo.

If you’re an optimist and want to hold onto those first 25 minutes, cool. If you’re a pessimist and want to point to the flaws in those final 15 minutes, fine. If you’re just waving your hands and thinking, “whatever, nothing to see here, let’s just never go back,” welcome — that’s where I’m at.

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. (And for what it’s worth, the loss produced only a negligible change in Torvik’s predictive tool, largely because of the hit to our ranking from losing by 22 points.)

2. I will never understand the zone

I don’t think it’s coincidental that the game completely fell apart after WSU switched to the zone in the second half. Up to then, I had remarked that the WSU defense had been pretty on point, making things really difficult for the Utes. But WSU’s only two centers (Cluff and Rueben Chinyelu) had been racking up fouls contending with Utah’s bigs (many off them terrible calls, fwiw). As Kyle Smith usually does, he switched to the zone to try and protect them. From the moment that happened, Gabe Madsen — 45% 3-point shooter this year — went off, making a bunch of open looks. Smith refused to leave it, and Utah continued to bury us. And not just with 3s!

The zone was ok at times in the non-conference. But it’s been taken apart by anyone with a quality offense, and Utah certainly qualifies as that. It’s been an ongoing issue for years. At some point, I kinda don’t care about foul trouble. I’m a big believer in doing what you do and doing it well — it’s not just a matter of watching Dick Bennett, Tony Bennett, and Mike Leach succeed by doing it that way. That’s what Vince Lombardi believed.

Rolling the dice with man-to-man is the better option.

3. Yucky Jaki

After another poor shooting night — going 1-for-5 — Andrej Jakimovski is now shooting 29% on 63 3s this season. When you add in last season, he’s 58 for his last 179 — 32%. That’s bad for anyone, but especially bad for a player whose primary value is tied to his ability to shoot. He’s been able to keep his offensive efficiency passable by being greatly improved on 2s, but it’s still much lower than what you’d want from a low-volume player, and that’s largely because of the poor shooting.

Jakimovski does bring a lot of value defensively and he’s an excellent rebounder. But it was so rough last night that Smith flipped his minutes with Jaylen Wells. Something to keep an eye on.

Up Next

The Cougs wrap up this annual hell trip by visiting Colorado on Sunday. New Year’s Eve tip off is 11 a.m. PST on Pac-12 Network. Kenpom gives WSU a 20% chance of victory.

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