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Arizona wary of Washington State’s 3-point shooting

Nobody in the Pac-12 shoots the 3 like the Cougars do

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Washington State
Malachi Flynn
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

When the Arizona Wildcats were preparing to play Utah earlier in the season, Sean Miller warned his team about one of the Utes’ most dangerous tendencies.

“There’s not a team on our schedule that lives and dies by the 3-point shot and utilizes the 3-point shot, that can win the game by making 3s (more than Utah),” the UA head coach told his players.

He was stretching the truth.

“Washington State actually does it more,” Miller said Monday. “They shoot over 30 3s a game.”

And Arizona (18-4, 8-1 Pac-12) will experience the Cougars’ 3-point frenzy in Pullman on Wednesday for the first time this season.

Not only does Washington State (9-11, 1-7 Pac-12) hoist up a ton of 3s, it makes a high percentage of them. The Cougars are shooting 38.6 percent from 3, which is the 46th-best mark in the country and third-best in the Pac-12.

51.3 percent of WSU’s shots come from distance which is only behind Belmont and Savannah State, and 46.3 percent of WSU’s points come via the long ball, the top mark in all of college basketball.

The only Cougar rotation players that don’t shoot 3s are starting center Drick Bernstine and his backup, Jeff Pollard.

The rest of the roster lets it fly. Starting power forward and leading scorer Robert Franks shoots over five 3s per game, and recently drained 10 treys against Cal.

“And you could really him their center,” Miller said. “Franks is really good.”

Starting point guard Malachi Flynn hoists roughly seven 3s per game. The wings around him, namely Carter Skaggs and Viont’e Daniels, have taken approximately 100 3s a piece this year.

(Of the 128 shots Skaggs has taken this year, 110 have been 3s. That is crazy.)

“They shoot the ball from four different spots, sometimes five,” Miller said. “It’s dangerous, especially when a team, especially at home, plays with that type of mindset. And if you look at our team, that (defending the 3) has been our Achilles’ heel at times.

“So that’s our focus and when you do that really well, prepare for it, you can become successful.”

It’s true. When Arizona played Utah the first time this season, it surrendered 12 made 3s. A couple weeks later the Wildcats only allowed seven.

Aside from its sharpshooting, WSU does not excel at much — there is a reason the Cougars are 1-7 in league play — so adequately defending the 3-point line might be all Arizona needs to do to leave Pullman with a victory.

But the Wildcats’ defense has been inconsistent at best this season and generally does not defend the perimeter well — they rank 226th in the country in opponent 3-point percentage — so that will be easier said than done.

“Somebody told us that we have 12 road sweeps in nine years. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s a little over a road sweep a year and we’ve been near the top of our conference for a while now, so that shows you how hard it is to win games on the road in the Pac-12,” Miller said.

“It starts with Washington State with us, and that starts with being ready, having less peaks and valleys.”

What the Drick?

Speaking of Drick Bernstine, Arizona is awfully familiar with the big man.

The grad transfer from North Dakota eviscerated the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament last year, posting 20 points and 15 rebounds in UND’s first-round loss to Arizona.

Bernstine now averages 7.1 points, 3.0 assists, and a team-high 7.7 rebounds for the Cougars.

Arizona thought it was done with Bernstine after dispatching the Fighting Hawks last March, but nope — it still has to face him at least two more times.

Miller probably isn’t too happy about that.

“He was the best player in that game I think on both teams, so our guys really respect him,” he said.

“He’s an excellent passer, an older player, and I think (the Cougars) have the ability to beat anyone in our conference. They’ve played everyone close, they got off to a great start in non-conference, so we have to go there and play our style and be ready to go.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire