Surging Washington State takes aim at conference elite No. 4 Arizona
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Washington State is coming off its first sweep of the Bay Area schools since 1993, but there is no time to celebrate the achievement.
At least not with No. 4 Arizona, which has used a recent surge to take a firm lead in the Pacific-12 standings, coming to town for a game Thursday in Pullman, Wash.
Arizona (20-2, 10-1 Pac-12) is ahead by two games in the loss column in the Pac-12 standings over UCLA, Oregon and Washington State.
The Cougars (14-7, 7-3) have won five consecutive games, including last week's wins at Stanford and California.
Although they have four losses at home, Washington State swept Utah and Colorado two weeks ago in Pullman by an average margin of 22 points.
"We're at a point where I think our team is formed," Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. "We can talk on those terms and talk situations. There's a familiarity.
"Knowing your role, knowing your deal, guys are hustling. Those things start to click and it's good."
South Alabama transfer Michael Flowers led the Cougars in scoring in Sunday's win at California for the seventh time on the season, scoring 21 points.
Mouhamed Gueye finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks to earn his third Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor.
Efe Abogidi had 17 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and four steals.
Gueye (6-foot-11) and Abogidi (6-foot-10) provide Smith with a good matchup against Arizona 7-footers Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo.
Koloko and Ballo dominated the paint in Arizona's 91-79 win at Arizona State on Monday, the Wildcats' fourth straight win after losing at UCLA on Jan. 25.
Koloko had 10 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes as a starter, and Ballo had 13 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. They each blocked a shot.
Koloko leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots with 3.1 a game. Abogidi is third at 1.6.
The trip to the Washington schools will be special for Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd and Ballo, both of whom joined the Wildcats from Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.
Lloyd was a 20-year assistant coach under Mark Few before taking the Arizona job.
Ballo transferred while still in the developmental stage, redshirting in 2019-20 and playing sparingly in 24 games last season for the Zags. His role coming off the bench increasingly has been impactful to Arizona's interior presence on offense and defense.
"Now we're counting on him to do those things. Before we were hoping," Lloyd said. "That's a great place to be as a program when you have guys developing from underneath. That's how you build a sustainable high level program and Oumar gets 100 percent of the credit and the coaching staff for hanging with him."
Azuolas Tubelis, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds against Arizona State on Monday, gives Arizona even more opportunities to dominate inside.
Another good matchup will be Bennedict Mathurin (16.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game) going against Flowers (13.7 points and 3.1 assists per game).
--Field Level Media
Updated February 8, 2022