In continuing our series about Utah opponents, this edition covers the Washington State Cougars. The Utes and Cougars face off January 12th at 5pm. Helping us learn about the Cougars for this game is Evan Baron from the Daily Evergreen. Get more Washington State coverage from Evan on the Daily Evergreen or follow him on twitter @Evan_Baron.
1. What are Washington State’s expectations for this season?
The expectations I would say for Washington State this year is to finish higher in the Pac-12 than they did last season. Last season the Cougars finished in a tie for last place with Oregon State. When the Pac-12 preseason rankings for the 2013-2014 season were released, the experts put WSU at the bottom. WSU men’s head basketball coach Ken Bone and his players want to prove to those experts that the Cougars are better than they are on paper this year.
2. What would you define as their style of play?
I would define the Cougars style of play as “up-tempo.” The Cougars love to run the court and score on the fast break. Whenever WSU gets a rebound, they’re always looking up court for the open man. On the defensive side, the Cougars are in a process of learning a new defensive scheme. Similar to their offense the Cougars want to play with an “up-tempo” style of defense. Whether that be playing more full-court pressure defense or just putting more pressure on the big men down low, WSU wants to play as fast as possible and the goal of this defense is to create as many turnovers as possible.
3. Who are the top three contributors for the team this season? and what can we expect to see from them?
DaVonte Lacy – Lacy is the best player on this WSU basketball team. Last season it was forward Brock Motum who had the “green light” to shoot the ball, and this year it’s Lacy who has that opportunity. Lacy is one of the leading scorers in the Pac-12 conference, which is 17.7 points a game, according to espn.com. The best part of Lacy’s game is his shooting. The guard makes a living from shooting behind the arch. When he’s in the zone, it’s hard to stop him. However Lacy might not be a 100 percent healthy or could possibly sit out against Utah. In late December, Lacy suffered an appendicitis which caused him to miss the Pac-12 opener at Arizona. The Tacoma guard did play against Arizona State on Jan. 5, however suffered another injury to the ribs. His status to play is unknown right now.
Royce Woolridge- Woolridge is second on the team in scoring with 9.9 points a game. However Woolridge is the man that runs this offense and tends to focus more on passing than scoring. Woolridge, a Kansas transfer, has the ability to score and take over a game if he wants to. He’s the best dribbler on the team, can get to the basket whenever he wants to and can either draw the foul or lay it up for two points. Woolridge does a nice job getting players involved in the offense. During his time at Kansas, Woolridge was a shooting guard. His first season with the Cougars which was last year, Woolridge was moved to point guard. Woolridge has made a nice adjustment of switching from a shooting guard to a point guard, but needs shoot the ball more in order for the Cougars to be successful. He’s been hesitant with shooting the ball this year.
Que Johnson – Johnson is starting to evolve as one of the best players on this Cougars’ basketball team. I believe Johnson has the potential to be the next Klay Thompson. The redshirt freshman needs some time before he can be given that title, but he’s shown signs he can be the next Cougar great. So far this season Johnson is averaging 9.1 points per game, but the last four games, the guard has averaged 15.3 points a game. The biggest strength for Johnson is his size and shooting. The 6’5″, 205 Ibs guard is the best shooter on the team. If the Utes leave Johnson wide open, it could be a long night for them. Johnson is the one of the highest rated recruits to come to WSU in the last couple years. He sat out last season after the NCAA ruled him academically ineligible. Que is slowly starting to adjust to the college game which is scary for future Pac-12 opponents. Johnson will be a player to watch in the Cougars’ upcoming game against Utah.
4. What have you learned about this team at this point in the season?
I have learned about the Cougars this point of the season is that they are one or two years away from being very competitive in this conference. Entering this season, I thought this team had the ability to possibly make the NCAA or at least the NIT tournament, however this team is very young and still learning. The Cougars are learning a whole new defense, and learning how to play without a true scorer. Though Lacy has attained that role this year, he has not made the impact that Brock Motum did for the Cougars last season. The Cougars will only lose one starter next year, and will return basically their entire team. WSU has an great freshman point guard in Ikenna Irogebu from Oak Hill Academy who is still adjusting to the college game. Que Johnson is another player who is still in a learning process.
5. If the Utes are to stop Washington States, what is the one thing they must do?
If the Utes want to stop the Cougars, they must take away the three point shot from WSU. Though the Cougars shoot a low percentage from behind the arch so far this season, they get a lot of open looks. It’s been a “hot” and “cold” type of year for the Cougars. One game they’re on fire from behind the three point line and another game they’re ice-cold. The Utes must put more pressure on the guards who are on the wing and make the Cougars force their shots. The Cougars have shot 338 three pointers so far this season which is very high.
6. What are your expectations for the game? Prediction?
I believe this will be a close game between these two opponents. Utah does a nice job with only allowing 85.5 points a game, and shoots a great field goal percentage. However I believe the Cougars will pull off the upset against Utah. Yes Utah did play Oregon tough at home, but looking at their schedule, they have not played a very tough schedule. BYU and Oregon are solid opponents, but Utah has only played one road game this season and it was a two point loss at Boise State. The Broncos are a solid team with an 11-3 record, but the Utes have not had much experience on the road so far this season. The Cougars’ out of conference schedule ranks as one of the toughest in the conference. Que Johnson will be the difference maker in this game and is a player the Utes must contain. Prediction: 67-62 Cougars