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Husky Men's Basketball

The latest news and analysis on Husky men's hoops.

March 7, 2008 at 8:09 AM

Cursed by the Cougars?

UPDATE 12:45 P.M.— HOLIDAY AVAILABLE TO PLAY: I don’t want to interrupt the thread here with a new post, but wanted to pass along that UW coach Lorenzo Romar said today that Justin Holiday will be avaiable to play tomorrow against WSU. He hasn’t played since the UCLA game Feb. 10 when he was emerging as a valuable reserve defender on the perimeter, suffering a sprained knee and ankle in practice. He went through a full practice Thursday for the first time. Romar said everything else with the team is status quo.
ORIGINAL POST — I wrote today about Washington State’s six-game winning streak over the Huskies.
Not a particularly fun topic for UW fans, I realize — nor original — but impossible to ignore.
UW doesn’t have any other current losing streaks in Pac-10 play longer than two (USC and Stanford) and hasn’t lost more than four straight games to any other team since Lorenzo Romar took over (UCLA during his first two years as coach).
The reason seemed obvious early — WSU played a deliberate style that emphasized defense that frustrated the Huskies (though interestingly, in the first two wins of the series, WSU scored 78 and 77 points, two of its three highest point totals of the 2005-06 season, seeming to beat the Huskies at their game rather than the other way around).
But the styles of the two teams aren’t so divergent anymore. The Cougars have increased their tempo under Tony Bennett and are averaging 64.2 points per game in Pac-10 play, while the Huskies have decreased theirs due to changes in personnel in the post-Brandon Roy era, and are averaging 69.1 points this year — nowhere near the 20-plus difference in the two teams’ scoring averages of years past. (There is a greater difference in points allowed, with WSU at 59 and UW at 70).
In fact, if you use field goal percentage defense as your main avenue for judging a defense — and you should, as points allowed is as much about pace of play than defensive prowess — the Huskies are statistically as good as the Cougars. In Pac-10 games this year, UW is holding teams to 44 percent shooting, while WSU is at 45.6 (the Cougars are better against the three, at 34.3 compared to 36.7 for the Huskies).
There also isn’t as big a difference anymore in turnover margin as each of the two teams rank among the top four in the Pac-10 — WSU at the top at plus 3.24, UW fourth at plus-0.82.
Instead, the biggest statistical differences between the two these days are in shooting categories — specifically, three-point shooting and free throws. WSU is making 39 percent of its three-pointers in conference play compared to 31.3 for UW, and the free throw shooting is obvious — WSU is at 72 percent to UW’s 56.8 in Pac-10 play.
Of course, what’s hard to measure in overall stats is how well teams play when games are on the line. As pointed out in the story, UW has led at halftime in four of the last six games against the Cougars. But when the games have hit their most critical juncture, the Cougars have shown an ability to make the plays that the Huskies haven’t. That’s what the Huskies will most have figure out how to improve to win Saturday.

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