Not this year. Unless WSU (9-14, 2-9) sweeps this weekend’s games against California and Stanford, it appears the Cougars will finish 11th or 12th this season.
Oregon is a game ahead in 10th as they’ve continued to fall off a cliff, but the Ducks are far better than their record indicates, and should win some games down the stretch. It’s a three-game gap to the next group of teams tied for seventh/ninth in Oregon State, Washington and Utah.
In all likelihood, the Washington State-USC game on March 6 in Pullman will decide last place. Not that it matters, really, because a No. 11 or 12 seed probably isn’t going to win a game in the Pac-12 tournament. But if you’re optimistic, it might be wise to pay attention to this week’s opponents, because the No. 11 and 12 seeds have a good chance of facing Cal or Stanford during the tournament’s opening round.
Given the darkness of this season, one in which all signs indicate that it will end with a coaching change, one tournament upset would be a nice change of pace for Cougar fans.
Another slight change-up hits WSU’s schedule this week: Wednesday’s game against California shows on ESPNU, rather than the usual Pac-12 Network placeholder. The Cougars have one more ESPN appearance this season, their game against USC on March 6.
The week ahead: Washington State (9-14, 2-9) return to Pullman for the season’s penultimate home series. Wednesday, it’s California (15-8, 6-4), followed by a Saturday game against Stanford (15-7, 6-4).
California, Stanford at Cougs
California: 8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU
The series: Bears lead 74-48
Stanford: 4 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network
The series:Cardinal lead 71-59
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For what it’s worth, the Bears and Cardinal are both NCAA tourney teams, according to ESPN’s Bracketology. Both teams are one game behind second-place UCLA. The challenge is formidable for the Cougars, as they’ll surely remember losing to the Cardinal and Bears by margins of 32 and 21 points during their January Bay Area trip.
The last time Cal and Stanford visited Pullman was 2012, when the Cougars emerged with a sweep.
First up for the Cougs is California. This was the most competitive of WSU’s two games in the Bay Area, a one-point game at halftime. The Bears didn’t have a dominant individual, as Richard Solomon was the team’s statistical leader with 12 points and nine boards. WSU was also without DaVonte Lacy, who has lit up the Cougars’ offense since returning from a rib injury.
California started the Pac-12 season as though it might challenge No. 2 Arizona, winning its first five games. But the Bears have since retreated, losing four of their past five games -- ironically, the lone win came against Arizona. USC grabbed its lone league win against the Bears.
Senior guard Justin Cobbs has emerged to lead Cal in scoring at 16 points per game. Cobbs, who scored 16 points against the Cougars in the Berkeley game, is coming off his league high of 24 points against Stanford. Cobbs is a capable 3-point threat, but does most of his work inside the arc.
Solomon is Cal’s best big man, at 11.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. Solomon leads the Pac-12 in rebounding by a significant margin. Also of interest about Solomon: he’s among the league’s top 12 in steals.
Also to watch are Tyrone Wallace (12.0 ppg, 4.3 rebounds) and David Kravis (11.7 ppg, 7.6 rebounds).
Offensively, California is below average in the league, rating eighth or lower in scoring average, field goal and 3-point field goal percentages. The Bears’ defense is solid, limiting opponents to a field goal percentage of .410.
As for Stanford, the Cougars look to avenge arguably their worst loss of the season (yes, the Arizona debacle is in the running, too.) WSU led 24-23 with 5:37 remaining in the first half, only to have Stanford outscore the Cougars 57-24 during the final 25 minutes. Like Cal, no breakout performances from anyone, just everyone getting into the act as 10 players scored for the Cardinal, who shot 57.7 percent against WSU.
The Cardinal bounced back from a 0-2 start in league by winning six of their last eight games. Their only losses came against Arizona and UCLA, 1-2 in the Pac-12.
Junior guard Chasson Randle leads Stanford in scoring at 18.8 points a game, fourth in the Pac-12. Randle, a double-digit scorer in each of his three seasons on the Farm, scored a season-low six points against the Cougars. In his next game, Randle pumped in a season-high 33 against Washington. Randle is a versatile scorer, but does a fair amount of work from long range, often taking five or more shot a game from 3-point range.
Dwight Powell, a senior forward from Canada, is Stanford’s top inside threat, averaging 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. Stanford has two other double-digit scorers in Anthony Brown (12.6) and Josh Huestis (11.1).
Expect to see a lot of Randle, Powell, Brown and Huestis, as all average 34 minutes a game this season.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel