About Last Night: Cougs keep Oregon State at bay

It wasn't pretty, but it was a road win!

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Table of Contents

WSU 64, Oregon State 58: Quick Recap

In what would be nobody’s conception of a beautiful game of basketball, the Washington State Cougars outlasted the Oregon State Beavers for an important road victory that kept them just one game behind Arizona for the league lead.

Neither team came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, as they combined to shoot about 40% from the field in the first half with 17 combined turnovers. It was quite the turnaround from Saturday’s free-flowing offensive display in Seattle. (Fortunately/unfortunately, not many people saw it, as most folks tuning into Pac-12 were “stuck” watching the triple OT thriller between Arizona and Utah.)

A lot of that had to do with Isaac Jones playing just seven minutes, saddled with two fouls. Much of the rest had to do with Myles Rice scoring just 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting and a turnover in 19 minutes. Rice did have four assists, though, thanks to Jaylen Wells: The wing singlehandedly kept the Cougs in the game, scoring 18 of WSU’s 27 points in the first half.

Despite playing so poorly for the first 20 minutes, the Cougs did take a 1-point lead into the break.

The second half wasn’t much better up until the final minutes of the game. The Cougs struggled to put together any kind of consistent offense, which allowed Oregon State to hang around throughout the half. There was never a point where it felt like the Cougs were really at risk of losing a grip on the game, but it also felt like we were reaching “f— around, find out” territory when KC Ibekwe finished a post move to tie the game at 51 with about 5 minutes to go.

But a 5-0 run fueled by (who else?) Jones and Rice created a little separation, and then, after an OSU bucket, Andrej Jakimovski hit a pair of 3s, and the lead was 9 with 2:14 to play, and that was pretty much that.

In A Minute

  • CougCenter recap

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Jaylen Wells with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.

  • One stat to tell the tale: On a night when their bread-and-butter wasn’t working — 11-of-32 on 2s (34%) — the Cougs made up for it by shooting 11-of-23 from 3 (48%).

Tourney Check

Last night’s win (combined with other results) slightly boosted the Cougs’ odds of securing an at-large bid to 75%, remaining in “last four byes” territory:

Highlights

Three Thoughts

1. A really nice win

Everyone knows Oregon State isn’t good. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you should believe that. But I will remind you — as Craig and I warned on the podcast this week — that Oregon State is dangerous, particularly at home.

The Cougs left Corvallis with a win. You know who didn’t? Arizona.

This was only OSU’s third loss at Gill Coliseum, with one very good win (Arizona) and a couple of other decent ones (Troy, Appalachian State) mixed in, not to mention the Beavers beating USC and ASU by double digits. It’s not unreasonable to say that they play like a top 75ish team at home, despite being ranked 163 by kenpom overall:

Additionally, Pac-12 home teams are winning 68% of their games, the fourth-best rate of any conference in the country, according to kenpom.com. Any road win in the Pac-12 is a good road win. They don’t all have to be pretty. They definitely aren’t all going to be pretty. But if you can get the result you need — particularly on road, and particularly on the heels of a wildly emotional overtime victory over a rival on Saturday — well … that’s really, really good.

This game had “trap” written all over it and the Cougs figured out a way to win. As my friend and partner Craig Powers said this morning, that was a “tourney team” win.

2. Jaylen Wells appreciation

One of the more pleasant/stunning developments this season has been the emergence of Wells. I knew the staff liked him a lot coming into the year, and I know they felt like not having him available early on because of injury was significant. But I’m also not sure you could convince me that they saw this coming from a guy who transferred in from Division II Sonoma State.

Wells absolutely carried the team in the first half, and while it was an out-of-body experience in terms of results — 7-of-9 shooting overall, 4-of-4 on 3s — it didn’t feel like it was totally crazy. Because this has been coming: Since entering the starting lineup eight games ago, he’s averaged 16 points by displaying an increasing array of scoring moves that bely his initial impressions as a catch-and-shoot guy.

Maybe we shouldn’t be totally surprised; Wells scored 22.4 points last season as a D-II all-American, and his size (6-7) meant he was unlikely to face the same challenges as WSU’s last D-II transfer (Tyrell Roberts, 5-foot-9ish). But I also don’t think any of us thought that on a night when Jones and Rice struggled, we could just lean on Wells to carry us through.

When we talk about how this team is different, and why it is trending toward the NCAA tournament … having another scoring option like this is a big reason why.

3. Tremendous defense

Oregon State scored just 0.92 points per possession, which was their lowest in a home Pac-12 game. The biggest reason is that the Cougs did an incredible job on Jordan Pope, who truly can beat you all by himself.

He’s one of the reasons Oregon State is so darn tricky. Pope isn’t simply a “high volume shooter on a bad team” — the sophomore point guard is legitimately good, scoring efficiently with his high volume and adding a bunch of assists to boot. Ask Arizona what they think of Pope after he dropped 31 points with 5 assists on them, including this ridiculous buzzer beater to win the game.

The best way to stop a high volume scorer is to simply limit his touches as best you can, and then when he does touch the ball, force him into situations where if he is going to take a shot, it’s either going to be very difficult, or he’s going to have to give up the ball. The Cougs did that to perfection: Pope took just 11 shots in 33 minutes, and he wasn’t efficient doing it.

Rice was the harasser-in-chief, and for the amount that he struggled offensively, he was pretty darn good on defense — which isn’t exactly his calling card. He worked extremely hard to make life difficult for Pope, and you can bet that brought a smile to Kyle Smith’s face.

Up Next

The Cougs wrap up their three-game roadie with a trip to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. It’s a battle between the two teams tied for second place and also one of the Cougs’ final two chances to pick up a Quad 1 win. There’s a lot on the line.

The Ducks beat UW last night in a game that was a blowout (leading by 20 with about 10 minutes to go, 99.1% win probability), then was not (leading by just 1 with less than four minutes to go after a 20-3 UW run), then was nip and tuck until Oregon did enough to get across the finish line for a 5-point victory.

What does any of this have to do with us? I just think it underscores Oregon’s flaws, which also were on display when these teams played the first time, about five weeks ago. The WSU defense is better than it was then, and Oregon has been pretty hit and miss.

I think the Cougs have already done what they needed to do in this three-game swing with regards to their Tournament chances, which means this is house money.

Wouldn’t it be fun to be in a legit conference title race?

Tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.

(Like you, I also can’t believe this isn’t on ESPN or FS1. Travesty.)

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