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What to watch for when Arizona hosts Washington State

arizona-wildcats-pac-12-college-basketball-tournament-roundtable-predictions Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats (14-9, 5-5) hope to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday when they host the Washington State Cougars (9-14, 2-8) at 5:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks.

Here are some things to watch for:

Pac-12 Tournament seeding

Now trailing the first-place Washington Huskies by five games, the Wildcats have virtually no shot at repeating as Pac-12 regular-season champions and their weak résumé leaves them on the outside looking in for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament too.

However, that does not mean the rest of the regular season is meaningless. Arizona can help set itself up for a run in the Pac-12 Tournament by finishing in the top quarter of the conference standings, since that would give the Wildcats a first-round bye in Las Vegas.

In other words, if Arizona finishes in the top four it would only have to win three games in the Pac-12 Tournament instead of four to take home the trophy and become an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament.

Obviously Arizona’s seed would impact the quality of opponents it plays in Vegas as well. Being the 2 or 3 seed, for instance, would allow the Wildcats to avoid Washington until the championship game, assuming the Huskies avoid an upset.

And as dreary as things appear for Arizona right now during this four-game skid, the Wildcats are only one game behind ASU, Oregon State, USC and Utah for second place.

“Honestly I’m glad we’re going through this adversity because it brings us closer as a team,” said UA point guard Justin Coleman. “We have eight games left, we’re going to try to make the best run we can these last eight games and play for each other.”

WSU’s defense falling back to earth

Normally when you see Washington State on the schedule you figure it will be an easy win. After all, the Cougars’ lone conference win before this week came against last-place Cal.

But Thursday the Arizona State Sun Devils showed why no Pac-12 team can afford to take anything for granted this year when they were blasted 90-71 by WSU in Tempe in a game that made no sense.

WSU, which is allowing 116.6 points per 100 possessions in conference play and has one of the worst defenses in the nation, held the Sun Devils to 0.81 points per possession. That was both the Cougars’ best defensive performance of the year and ASU’s worst offensive performance of the year.

Among the issues for the Sun Devils was their perimeter shooting, going 5 for 33 from 3.

You have to give Ernie Kent and Washington State some credit for devising a smart game plan. The Cougars have been getting thrashed on 2-point field goals all season, so they decided to let ASU, a poor 3-point shooting team, hoist 3s. And when the Sun Devils, also a poor free-throw shooting team, did drive, the Cougars were quick to foul.

ASU wound up shooting 19 for 33 (58%) from the charity stripe.

Perhaps the Cougars will have another sound game plan Saturday and play zone and force the Wildcats to shoot 3s. Lord knows they are prone to cold shooting nights.

“We’re not a great shooting team,” Sean Miller said after Arizona went 4 for 18 from 3 against UW. “I mean, there’s a lot of evidence to support that.”

Second half swoon

Arizona is not a deep team, either.

Losing Brandon Williams (knee) and Emmanuel Akot (transfer) has constricted UA’s depth in the backcourt and frontcourt.

And when depth is lacking, the two Fs — fatigue and foul trouble — are magnified. The Wildcats suffered from both against Washington, which pulled away with ease in the second half despite several of its players battling the flu.

Chase Jeter picked up his third foul less than a minute into the period and only played 12 minutes in the second half as a result, compiling just two points and one rebound after he had 10 points in the first half.

Then there was Justin Coleman, who played 37 minutes, rarely getting a breather as Williams, the backup point guard, was unavailable.

Coleman finished with a team-high 16 points, but all those minutes hindered his defensive impact. His counterpart, David Crisp, scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half and only needed six shots to do it.

As a team, the Huskies shot 58 percent in the final 20 minutes.

“We definitely ran out of gas,” Miller said. “Part of it is we need Chase Jeter to be able to play and not get in foul trouble.”

Jeter didn’t think fatigue was Arizona’s problem.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “At the end of the day we just have to be more tough, get stops.”

To be Frank

Robert Franks is good at basketball. The senior flirted with the idea of entering the NBA Draft after his junior season, but opted to return to Washington State and that has been bad news for Cougar opponents.

The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 22.1 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, shooting 52 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3, and 80 percent from the line.

Franks had a career-high 34 points and 13 rebounds along with four blocks and four steals against ASU on Thursday.

“I can’t remember him having a better all-around performance than this one, where he was affecting the action at both ends of the floor,” wrote Jeff Nusser of CougCenter, our sister site. “It’s performances like that one from him that keep me watching the team, even when they stink. He’s awfully fun.”

Any more questions?

After the Washington game, Miller said he would not answer any questions about any “off the court” issues, alluding to the suspension of assistant coach Mark Phelps, who is accused of violating NCAA rules.

Yet, the inquiries poured in anyway, including some from a trio of ESPN reporters who trekked to Tucson from Bristol, Connecticut.

But, aside from mentioning that Austin Carroll has been promoted to take Phelps’ spot on the bench, Miller refused to comment on the situation.

You can read the whole transcription here.