This Week in Cougar Hoops: Advantage Wazzu?

CASTO AND COUGS GO FOR THIRD STRAIGHT WIN OVER UW

MAYBE THIS IS overly optimistic, but KlayGate may have done Washington State a favor in terms of its postseason future.

I know, some of you might still be a little steamed as a Cougar fan about the whole Klay Thompson situation. But follow along, nonetheless.

Washington State's well-played 58-54 loss to UCLA dropped the Cougars to the No. 6 seed in the Pacific Life Pacific-10 Conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Staples Center. This is a good thing.

Because it starts out as the No. 6 seed, Washington State avoids Arizona until the championship game, and perhaps, altogether. The No. 6 seeding is a win, because it sets up the Cougars' best chance of getting to the NCAAs without having to win the Pac-10 tournament.

Despite its wild inconsistencies throughout most of the Pac-10 season, Washington State isn't that far out of contention for an NCAA at-large berth. ESPN's Bracketology has WSU as the sixth team out. It wouldn't take a large string of unforeseen upsets to move the Cougars into the tournament.

But it will take some damn fine play by WSU in the Pac-10 tournament to convince the NCAA that the Cougars are tourney-worthy. Beat Washington and UCLA, and that might do it.

WASHINGTON STATE OPENS against Washington at appx. 8:40 p.m. Thursday (TV: FSN). During the next few days, you're going to hear this storyline repeated over and over -- it's hard to beat a team three times in one season.

My response: That's coach speak nonsense. I would agree if the third game didn't mean much, but this one means everything to Washington State. Wouldn't you want to play a team you know you can whip?

There isn't a team in the Pac-10 the Cougars have more confidence in beating than the Huskies. Three wins over a team bound for the NCAA is certain to open the eyes of the committee.

If Washington State succeeds in defeating UW, the Cougars' likely semifinal opponent is UCLA. It's true the Bruins have been tough on WSU over the years, but this remains a winnable game. UCLA has rarely taken any opponent to the woodshed this season. The Bruins went all out to beat the Cougars both times this season.

Just like Washington thinks it can beat Washington State, the Cougars have to think they have a good shot against UCLA.

I can't guarantee Washington State will secure an NCAA berth merely with two wins in the Pac-10 tournament. Odds are, the Cougars probably need a tournament championship to get into The Big Dance. But it's certainly possible.

The week ahead: Bring on the Huskies. As we mentioned earlier, Washington State is attempting to win for the third time against UW. This marks just the second time the two teams have hooked up in the Pac-10 tournament. That was 2007, when the Cougars beat UW 74-64.

It was Washington State's third win over Washington that season. (Just so you know, it can be done.)

Washington's talent is as good as any in the Pac-10, but both times the Cougars found a way to frustrate the Huskies and get them out of their game plan. Four teams scored 80 points or more in a game against Washington this season -- Washington State was the only school to do it twice.

Note: The UW will be without their best perimeter defender against the Cougs. On Tuesday afternoon, multiple outlets reported UW guard Venoy Overton will travel but has been suspended for the Pac-10 tournament.

If Washington State beats Washington, the Cougars will face one of three teams in the semifinals, the winner of the UCLA-Oregon/Arizona State quarterfinal. In all likelihood, it will be UCLA. To say the Bruins have given WSU fits over the years is an understatement. During their past 38 games, Washington State is 2-36 against UCLA.

And if there's a Pac-10 title game in Washington State's future? Let's assume it is Arizona, although USC is playing well enough to give the Trojans a puncher's chance.

Arizona swept the season series from WSU, but the Wildcats were pushed to the limit both times, winning 65-63 in Pullman and 79-70 in Tucson. If it's USC, the Cougars would have to feel confident, coming off their 85-77 win over the Trojans last Thursday.

The Cougars have played Oregon in their Pac-10 opener the past three years. In Pac-10 tourney openers, WSU is 5-7.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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