No. 6 Arizona, which was stunned at home by Washington State about three weeks ago, will be looking for payback when the teams meet Thursday night in Pullman, Wash.
The Cougars (9-12, 4-6 Pac-12) posted the program’s first road victory over a top-5 team when they defeated the then-No. 5 Wildcats 74-61 on Jan. 7 in Tucson, snapping Arizona’s 28-game home winning streak.
Washington State is aiming for its first sweep of Arizona (17-3, 6-3) since the 2009-10 season.
“I hope they consider us a rival,” Cougars coach Kyle Smith said with a chuckle. “I think that would be great.”
Arizona looks a bit different than it did in the first meeting against Washington State. Coach Tommy Lloyd made a lineup switch last week, inserting Cedric Henderson Jr. in place of Pelle Larsson, who was the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year last season.
Larsson, typically a wing, is more of a scoring spark off the bench and can now sub in at a post position, allowing Arizona to play more small ball when Azuolas Tubelis or Oumar Ballo needs a breather.
Another change is the hot streak of Texas transfer guard Courtney Ramey, who scored only two points in the first meeting against the Cougars. That ended a personal three-game skid in which he managed a mere 10 points.
In four games since then, he has scored 50 points and hit 15 of 31 shots from 3-point range.
“He’s made huge progress,” Lloyd said. “He and I are on the same page now. And it was nothing intentional. He just had different habits. It takes time to kind of break down some of those habits and get on the same page with what we want to do.”
Tubelis leads the Pac-12 in scoring (19.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.5). He has double-doubles in five of his past six games, including a 29-point, 14-rebound effort against the Cougars.
But he might not have been the best big man on the court that day, as Mouhamed Gueye was a force with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Gueye, however, was scoreless in 21 minutes in a 58-55 loss at Colorado on Sunday, when he was playing with an injured hamstring, according to Smith.
Smith said he expects Gueye to play on the Arizona road trip.
“When it’s a hamstring it can always be tricky,” Smith said. “Trainer says he’s good. I think he’ll be fine.”
The Cougars lead the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting (36.1 percent) and 3-point makes per game (8.6). TJ Bamba, averaging a team-high 15.2 points, scored 18 against Colorado on Sunday, when he returned from a three-game absence due to injury.
Arizona is coming off what Lloyd described as the team’s best defensive week as his Wildcats handled Southern California 81-66 and downed then-No. 5 UCLA 58-52 in a physical game.
“We got more aggressive,” Lloyd said of the improved defense. “I thought all along our team had real, real defensive potential.”
Perhaps the difference in the second meeting will be how the Wildcats shoot from behind the arc. They were 4 of 25 from deep in the loss to the Cougars.
“We had some success doing certain things,” Smith said. “But they also got a lot of good looks that they missed. We were fortunate; I’ll be honest.”
–Field Level Media