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WSU Preview: Tough Task for Cal in Pac-12 Tournament

March 8, 2022
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Two weeks ago, Washington State looked like anything but a threat to Arizona or UCLA at the Pac-12 Tournament.

But the Cougars (18-13, 11-9 Pac-12), who are Cal’s opening round tournament opponent Wednesday night, have come alive. They finished the regular season on a three-game win streak, with the last two arguably their best efforts of the year.

Granted, two of the wins were over bottom feeder Oregon State, which was clearly the worst team in the conference this season. But the Cougs finished the regular season with a 94-74 rout of Oregon, which had hopes for an NCAA at-large bid going in.

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Kyle Smith

“We played one of our most complete games and I feel like it was perfect timing,” senior guard Michael Flowers said after the game.. “Last game of the season, last game in Beasley (Coliseum), Senior Night — it was great momentum heading into the conference tournament.

“We had a chance to do something special.”

In his third year in the Palouse, head coach Kyle Smith was expected to lead WSU to the NCAAs for the first time since 2007. Those hopes seemed to be derailed by some upset losses including Eastern Washington and South Dakota State and a five game conference losing streak.

But the Oregon game showed WSU is capable of good things. Against the Ducks, WSU recorded 21 assists, hit 50 percent of their field-goal tries and a season-high 16 three-pointers. 

“We started to turn down good shots and get great shots,” Smith said when asked about his team’s recent turnaround on offense. “That’s what you need at this time of the year. One guy isn’t going to be able to win the game. We’ve been an impatient team…They’ve learned to turn some things down and get better shots.”

Grad transfer Flowers has become the unquestioned team leader. He is not only the top scorer (14.2 ppg) he has dished out a team-high 105 assists (3.39 per game).

He’s WSU’s most reliable crunch-time shooter and leads all guards on the team with a respectable 40.4 percent from the field and 38.9 from distance – on approximately seven 3-point attempts per game.

 “He’s a great leader,” forward DJ Rodman told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.  “We have a guy who can make a shot when we need it and a guy who’s not afraid to take the shots and be a leader. We need that…He’s a great role model and he’s shown he’s fearless.”

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Flowers

“We have a quarterback,” Smith said. “He’s calm and he keeps us calm. He’s not afraid to make a big play and guys feed off his leadership.”

There is some question about the availability of freshman forward Mouhamed Gueye. He has missed just one game this season, but has been favoring a gimpy ankle since he turned it in the Arizona game on Feb. 10. He played only ten minutes in the win over the Ducks and it was reported he was on crutches earlier this week. 

On Tuesday Smith said, “I think he’s ready to go.” Over the last five games, all starts, Gueye is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 24.6 minutes. 

Washington State won both regular-season games against the Bears, but both games were relatively close. WSU prevailed 65-57 on Jan. 15 in Pullman and 68-64 in Berkeley Feb. 5.

Notes

  • Cal is 2-1 at the Pac-12 Tournament in two seasons under Mark Fox and 18-23 overall.
  • Cal has won its first game at the Pac-12 Tournament five times in the past seven years, including each of the past two seasons.
  • Both of Cal’s wins at the Pac-12 Tournament under Fox have come against Stanford. The only other game was a 61-58 loss to Colorado in the 2021 quarterfinals.
  • Cal and Washington State have met once at the Pac-12 Tournament in 2015 when the 8th-seeded Bears won 84-59 in the first round. 
  • Overall the Cougs are 6-21 at the Pac Tournament including 1-1 as the No. 7 seed.
  • Cougar fans think Goeye should have been chosen Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. That honor went to Stanford’s Harrison Ingram, whose production tailed off in the latter part of the season. 
  • WSU enters the postseason the top three-point shooting team in the Pac-12 at 9.2 per game led by Flowers at 2.9 per game.
  • The Cougs are 11-3 in games with double-digit three-pointers. 
  • Defensively the Cougs have allowed 65.3 points per game and are 41st in the country in defensive rating at 95.7 per 100 possessions. (DI average of 103.6). 
  • Efe Abogidi leads the way with a defensive rating of 90.8.
  • Tyrell Roberts, a transfer from UC San Diego has gone 41-for-44 (93.2 per cent) from the line, setting the record for consecutive FT to start a career with 25 makes.
  • The winner of this game, scheduled to tip-off at 6 p.m., will play second-seeded UCLA Thursday night. 
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WSU Preview: Tough Task for Cal in Pac-12 Tournament

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