Washington State vs. Arizona: Time, TV and preview

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State visits Tucson without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, but the Wildcats should have Kaleb Tarczewski back.

Time

8 p.m. MST

TV

Pac-12 Networks

The team picked to finish last in the preseason Pac-12 media poll opens conference play against the team easily picked to finish first. If the odds looked bleak for the Washington State Cougars to pull off the upset Thursday, they certainly got worse when 18 point-per-game scorer DaVonte Lacy required emergency appendicitis this past week.

As Lacy misses out, the Arizona Wildcats should see the return of starting center Kaleb Tarczewski, whose rehab from a sprained ankle suffered in the Michigan game seems to have gone quite well over the winter break, reports Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.

The injury report for the two squads only compounds the issues WSU will have.

The Cougar threats

Brock Motum, who in the last few Pac-12 seasons was quietly a Dirk Nowitzki Jr. on a bad Cougars team, is gone. Ken Bone's squad is certainly perimeter-oriented at this point, and it remains so with Lacy out. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman Que Johnsonaccording to Percy Allen of the Seattle Times.


WSU loses the scoring punch from Lacy, but in Johnson have a player that's already deeply engrained in the rotation. Johnson is atop the NCAA by turning the ball over just 3.7 percent of his possessions, so don't expect things to go too far south. His solid play will need to hold steady against Arizona's defense. Though the Wildcats aren't necessarily pressing to force turnovers -- they do fine forcing tough shots with the clock winding -- Washington State will miss Lacy's ability to score against the waning shotclock.

And while Johnson, out of Phoenix's Westwind Prep, is sturdy with the ball in his hands, the 6-foot-5 swingman is also the team's third-leading scorer and second-best three-point shooter. He is joined in the backcourt by 10.9 point-per-game scorer Royce Woolridge, who went to Sunnyslope High School. The guard rotation rounds out with Dexter Kernich-Drew and Ike Iroegbu.

Up front, Washington State is thin outside of shotblocking center Jordan Railey and forward D.J. Shelton, who is a double-double threat. Tarczewski's return certainly helps there.

Arizona's advantages

It always comes back to the Wildcats' defense, but it also helps when teams aren't great at being ... teams. The Cougars only average 12 assists per game, which is partially due to their slower pace, but also because their offense has never been know to be all that pretty.

With Zeus back in the fold, expect the Wildcats to go back to an inside-out attack that was partially lost against Southern and NAU. One interesting bit there: Brandon Ashley had a rough go moving to the center spot and looked like he missed the attention going Tarczewski's way. If Ashley plays well today, it'll act as another piece of evidence of how important Tarczewski is to the fabric of Arizona's makeup.

The biggest battle: 2-point defense

Arizona ranks 10th in the nation by allowing opponents to hit just 40.6 percent of their two-point shots. On the other hand, the Cougars are 21st in the NCAA by shooting 55 percent from two-point range. WSU can spread the floor and open up driving lanes for its bevy of ball handlers, so Bone's team will either need to surprise from three-point range or score if Arizona packs the paint as expected.

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