Pre-Game: WAZZU@ ARizona

After defeating the Washington Huskies with a deluge of free throws, the Wildcats turn their sights on the Washington State Cougars as they covet more momentum heading into the second half of conference play. A win against the Cougars would place them one-game behind their longest winning streak of the season (four) with a road trip to face the Oregon schools on the horizon. It’s irrefutable that for the Wildcats to extend their consecutive NCAA Tournament streak they must continue their winning streak for at least three more games.

 

On paper, the Cougars are a very misleading team to behold. They only have three players averaging double-digits in scoring, and score a conference low 58.9 points per contest. The Cougars, however, are much better than basic stats can foretell – any seasoned PAC-10 fan can tell you as much. “Bennett Ball” is a very methodical, pain-stakingly slow offense that thrives on defensive mistakes of their opponents.

 

On the other hand, defensively they only allow 52.6 points per game – first in the conference. This figure is also misleading, and neither the Cougar’s offensive or defensive stats should be taken at face value. But no matter how you look at it, the key to defeating Washington State is limiting lost possessions and forcing the tempo of the game. Arizona State failed to do that and lost by 10, while Gonzaga managed to reach the 70-point plateau and won decisively.

 

 

The Cougars have also received solid contributions for Aron Baynes and freshman Klay Thompson this year. Thompson has the makings of fitting Bennett’s system much the way that Derrick Lowe did in previous years, though Thompson is more athletic but has less experience. He is still a volatile element for the Cougars, but is a year or two away from consistently being a threat the way that Lowe was in previous years.

 

Keys to the Game

  •  Force the Tempo: Arizona needs to get out and run on the Cougars a bit – it’s not that they can’t handle the up-tempo game, but anytime you can take a team out of their game plan you gain an advantage over them. If this game finishes with the winner sitting in the low 60’s it will likely be Washington State. On the other hand if it sits in the upper 60’s or low 70’s the probability will be Arizona coming out on top.
  • Protect the Ball: The Wildcats’ turnover woes continued against Washington on Thursday night, though they did improve from their previous game – though that’s not saying much. The Cougars have a conference best 11.8 turnovers per game, so Arizona really needs to buckle down and do a better job of ball control on Saturday.
  • Exploit the Athleticism: Bennett ball has an emphasis on smart players, not athletic ones. Because of this if Arizona can play smart (limit turnovers, grab rebounds, stay focused defensively) then their athleticism will be a huge advantage for them. They need to use their speed to attack the rim and the paint, and to apply pressure on the perimeter.
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils

You have to give credit to this squad for performing how they have in games and consistently holding to their game plan – even when down by double-digits under five-minutes remaining. For that you have to give credit to their floor general, Taylor Rochestie, for keeping his head and tapping into the experience he has as a senior. Rochestie is a sure-handed guard who averages 4.7 (Conference rank: 6th in total assists) assists and only 2.4 turnovers per game (third in a/to ratio in guards with 90 assists or more on the season).

 

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