About Last Night: Cougs dispatch Stanford, face Colorado in semis

Tonight will be a war.

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No. 2 WSU 79, No. 10 Stanford 62: Quick Recap

For the third time this season, the Cougs dispatched the Cardinal with relative ease — this time, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday.

At no point other than the first few minutes of the game did it appear that Stanford would pose much of a threat. The Cardinal led 9-7 with four minutes gone in the game, but the Cougars went on an 8-0 spurt to claim a 6-point lead. They traded buckets for a few minutes, then the Cougs went on another run, this one 13-2 — keyed by a trio of 3-pointers from Jaylen Wells and Andrej Jakimovski — to stretch the lead out to 15 points.

Leading by 16 at half, the Cougs continued to put their foot on the accelerator. A 13-5 run to start the second half pushed the lead to 24. Stanford never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.

In A Minute

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Jaylen Wells with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers.

  • One stat to tell the tale: 6 — double digit scorers for WSU: Isaac Jones (16), Wells (14), Myles Rice (14), Andrej Jakimovski (13), Kymany Houinsou (11!), and Rueben Chinyelu (10!).


Tourney Check

Unsurprisingly, a win over Stanford din’t really move the needle — we’re still the 2nd 7 at Bracket Matrix in today’s update:

Not a lot separating Wisconsin, Clemson, Nevada, St. Mary’s, and us, though. A win over Colorado tonight would very likely push us into the 6 line again.

I’ve been passing along Torvik’s projections, but for what it’s worth, I’m becoming a bit skeptical as to how useful it is for thinking about what a win/loss does for seeding at this point in the season:

He does say that his system is roughly ±1 seed line, we’re one line above this at Bracket Matrix. Also, because this is a projection, it’s factoring in what it sees as a likely loss to to Colorado in the semis tonight. If you prefer good news, Joe Lunardi has us back on the 5 line, for whatever you think that’s worth.

Three Thoughts

1. A Return to Form

If there was any thought in your mind that maybe the Cougs had been exposed, or that the long win streak was some sort of weird mirage, WSU put that thought to bed last night. This was a dominant performance against a team they should have dominated. They posted a game score of 98, which is their highest since beating Arizona in Tucson, and they led by an average of 12, the most since they whipped Stanford in the Bay Area back in January.

It wasn’t a “perfect” performance; each time they asserted control over the game, they’d start getting a little loose with the ball, taking questionable shots, etc., and Stanford would inch closer. But it always felt like they were playing with their food. Kyle Smith would call a time out, they’d lock in again, and stretch the lead back out.

After weeks of ulcer-inducing games, it was so nice to just relax and watch WSU blast a team they should blast.1

2. Dominant Defense

Maybe this is a throwback to our roots under guys like Kelvin Sampson, Dick Bennett, and Tony Bennett, but there’s a certain sadistic pleasure that I take in watching an opponent get so completely befuddled by our defense that they just more or less stop trying.

The Cardinal are well known for shooting and making lots of 3s — we talked about it on the podcast, and Don MacLean would not let you forget it during the broadcast. Stanford did end up taking a fair amount of 3s (21, 39% of their shots), but it was the nature of those 3s that caught my attention. Stanford tried to run some offense, but anytime they got near the rim, they’d just run into a wall of Chinyelu/Cluff/Jones.

Eventually, they just got tired of trying and settled for chucking 3s. The vast majority of them were contested; the ones that were not contested were hurried or shot from deeper in an effort to avoid a contest. The result was shooting 29% from 3 — and that was after Spencer Jones hit a couple of late 3s as Kyle Smith was emptying the bench.

This was the bully ball that we love to see.

3. Balanced Offense

I don’t have the time or the willpower to go check, but I think this is the first game this year where six guys scored in double figures. MacLean talked about all the ways WSU can beat you, and he’s right — especially when you get double digits from Houinsou. Nobody had what we’d consider a great game, but also nobody had a bad one.

The most lovely thing to see what WSU owning the paint once again. Myles was getting to the rim, Chinyelu was destroying in the post, Kymany was getting to the rim. And then you add in some opportunistic shooting from 3 — Wells and Jakimovski combined to hit 7-of-15 from behind the arc — it’s just impossible for a defense to deal with.

The Cougs scored 1.16 points per possession, which is a good mark, but not a great one, and really the only thing that held their efficiency back — and it sure would be nice to be done with this — was the 3-point shooting of Rice. He hasn’t made one in a month, missing his last 16. Most concerning is that he’s reaching the realm of looking a bit afraid to shoot. If I’m Kyle Smith, I’m telling him to go shoot a 3 in the first few possessions tonight. Maybe he hits, and the whole thing unlocks.

Up Next: Previewing the Colorado Buffaloes

It’s all chalk in the semifinals, as we’ll face No. 3 seed Colorado for a spot in the championship — a place we never have been. (Arizona will face Oregon.)

The Cougs and Buffaloes split the first two, with the home team pulling away down the stretch to secure the win. Both games were an absolute war in the paint, with officials really struggling to manage the physicality. In the first game in Boulder, both teams shot roughly the same number of 2s, yet WSU was called for eight more fouls and Colorado shot 26 free throws to WSU’s 8. The return trip to Pullman was a shitshow by any measure — you might remember it for its insane inconsistency from a bunch of overmatched refs.2 The Cougs got a bad whistle in that one, too, being called for far more fouls up until the final minutes.

To be fair, Colorado does put a lot of pressure of the rim — KJ Simpson is a bit of a force of nature in that respect, and I look forward to watching him do that in the NBA, and not to us anymore. The Buffs are No. 7 nationally in the percentage of their shots at the rim — nearly 50% (via hoop-math.com). But the Cougs spend a lot of time in the paint, too, and it would be great if the fouls reflected that.

The Cougs are also going to have to figure out what to do about Simpson. If I may be so bold, he’s the best player in the conference, and I think he’s a clear cut ahead of everyone — including POY Caleb Love. He scored 34 points in the first one on an obscene 38% usage; in the rematch, he had 25 points on less usage (24%), but he also got a lot of help from his friends (Tristan da Silva, Cody Williams) who were injured in the first matchup. Simpson can get to the rim (where he makes 56%) and can also beat you from deep (45% from beyond the arc).

Unfortunately, how tonight’s game is officiated is going to have a big influence over the outcome; hopefully, the neutral site helps. If it’s another parade to the free throw line for Colorado, that’s big trouble for us: The Buffs are shooting 77.7% from the stripe for the season — I swear that is not a typo — and they’ve made 40-of-48 against us in the two games.

For our part, I think we’re going to need to have an outsized performance on the glass — both with getting our own misses and also preventing second chances for the Buffs. We were much better in that facet in the second game, and I think that was a big part of our success. I also can’t shake the idea that we’re going to need someone outside the Big Three to give us a big boost; whether that’s Jakimovski, Rueben, or Kymany, I don’t know — but I think it will need to be someone.

Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT on FS1; kenpom.com rates it as a virtual coin flip, with Colorado’s odds at 56%. If you’re interested in watching the other semifinal, that one tips off at 5 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.

Bonus! Here are the updated Pac-12 Tournament odds at barttorvik.com:


2 A funny development: For Jim Schipper and Doug Sturdivan — the other two guys who worked that game with Verne Harris — it was their one and only Pac-12 conference game of the season.


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