The Washington Huskies need to continue their dominance over rival Washington State to have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament as the first round of the Pac 12 Tournament gets under way Wednesday in Las Vegas.
The sixth-seeded Huskies (17-14, 9-9 Pac 12) had an up-and-down season in conference play but drew an opponent they've won five straight against. They opened the season with four straight wins, three of which were on the road, and then proceeded to lose the next four straight. They righted the ship toward the end of the season, winning three games (including their second over the Cougars) before falling to the UCLA Bruins at home to close out the season. The Huskies run a high-post offense highlighted by jump shooting guard C.J Wilcox. If Wilcox is on, the Huskies can keep up with anyone, but he has been in a bit of a slump lately, shooting just 32 percent over his last 10 games.
Whereas the Huskies entered the season with a bit of hope and fell flat, there isn't a whole lot of positives from the Washington State Cougars' camp. The Cougars (13-18, 4-14 Pac 12) posted their worst season in coach Ken Bone's four-year stint, and their worst season since Dick Bennett last coached the team in 2006. Senior forward Brock Motum, who averages 18.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, leads the Cougars and has been especially good lately. Motum had two consecutive double-doubles, scoring 20 against UCLA and 31 against USC. It was the first time the Cougars have defeated the Bruins since 1993.
Both wins for the Huskies this year over the Cougars have been tight contests, winning by just five on the road and four points at home. In each game, the Huskies shot better than 54 percent and were knocking down their threes, shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. It'll be a close one either way, but if the Huskies want a better shot of winning they need Wilcox to snap out of his slump. The Cougars' front court, led by Motum, will find a way to get their points.
The winner of the game will go on to face the third-seeded Oregon Ducks in the second round. Neither school from Washington has had much success against the Ducks this year, each going winless in their two meetings. The Ducks have starting guard Dominic Artis back from a foot injury, although it isn't sure how close to 100 percent he is. Either way, the Huskies or Cougars will face a tough matchup in the second round of the tournament. Whereas the Ducks are on the good side of the bubble for the NCAA tournament, both the Huskies and the Cougars need to win out to play in March.
Game time, TV: 11:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Location: MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas