Washington State might be the hottest team entering the Pac-12 Tournament, outside of regular-season champion UCLA.
The fifth-seeded Cougars have won six straight games heading into their matchup with 12th-seeded Cal in the first round Wednesday in Las Vegas. That includes a 93-84 win at Washington on Thursday night in each team’s regular-season finale.
Arguably the best win in that stretch is a 68-65 decision over Oregon Feb. 19 — a result that might very well doom the Ducks to the NIT, which Washington State (16-15, 11-9 Pac-12) is also a candidate to make. Some analysts project that two wins in Las Vegas could give the Cougars home-court advantage for the first round of the 32-team NIT.
“This group has a little synergy now,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. “Those guys trust each other. You can see it on both ends. If we’re not shooting the ball well, we can still dig deep and make some plays and know what we’re doing defensively.”
The Cougars didn’t need lockdown defense at Washington, not with TJ Bamba pouring in a career-best 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field. Bamba is averaging 25.7 points per game and hitting nearly 61 percent of his shots the last three games. And 6-foot-11 Mouhamed Gueye is contributing 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds during the winning streak.
Meanwhile, the Golden Bears (3-28, 2-18) are one more loss away from what figure to be major changes in their program. The consensus seems to be that coach Mark Fox won’t make it to his fifth season in Berkeley.
Cal has lost 15 consecutive games since routing Stanford 92-70 on Jan. 6. The Bears nearly ended that skid on Saturday, but they coughed up an eight-point halftime lead and fell 69-66 at Oregon State.
Joel Brown pumped in 22 points for Cal, more than triple his 6.9 ppg average. The Bears are last in Division I in scoring at 58.5 ppg and 359th in assists (out of 363 teams) at 9.6 per game.
Washington State won both games in the season series, limiting Cal to 54 ppg.
–Field Level Media