LOS ANGELES – Abe Lodwick, who is considering a career as an attorney, was working with rather flimsy evidence when he made his case for Washington State making a successful run at the Pacific-12 Conference basketball tournament.
After all, the Cougars have shot 37 percent from the field the past three games. Even worse, they’ve hit just 13 percent of their 3-pointers and 52 percent of their free throws while averaging 48 points per game.
Still, Lodwick says the Cougars are buoyed by the fact that they’ve defeated or given stiff tests to the Pac-12’s best teams. Also, WSU has won four in a row and 10 of 12 against Oregon State, WSU’s first-round opponent today at Staples Center.
“We’ve shown we can play with the best … and we could lose to the worst teams,” Lodwick said Tuesday. “I think that’s why our record is what it is.”
The Cougars had lost two in a row and four of five before ending league play with an ugly 43-38 win Saturday at USC. Another bad shooting day almost certainly would doom the Cougars, since Oregon State leads the Pac-12 and ranked ninth in the nation through Monday with 79.6 points per game.
The Beavers also rank first in the conference and among the national leaders in steals, assists and free throws made and attempted.
The Cougars (15-15) and Beavers (17-13) tied for eighth place. WSU earned the No. 8 seed and dropped Oregon State to No. 9 due to the season sweep.
The Beavers were riding a five-game losing streak before winning their past two games. OSU, last in the Pac-12 with 72.8 points allowed per game, mixes defensive looks and is the only Pac-12 team that plays much 1-3-1 zone.
Athletic guard Jared Cunningham spurs Oregon State at both ends of the floor. The junior scored 33 points in the most recent game with WSU, an 83-73 loss in Corvallis on Feb. 9.
Cunningham leads the Pac-12 in per-game points (18.2), steals (2.6), free throws made (6.0) and free throws attempted (7.9). Backcourt partner Ahmad Starks has drained 10 of 16 shots from 3-point range the past three games. Post Devon Collier leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at 60.5.
The Cougars’ only double-figures scorer is Australian Olympic team hopeful Brock Motum. The 6-foot-10 forward scored 27 against USC to boost his average to 18.1, second in the league behind Cunningham.
“He’s as good a teammate as you could ask for,” Lodwick said of Motum.
The WSU-Oregon State winner faces top seed Washington, the regular-season champion and two-time defending tournament champion, on Thursday.
WSU lost in the first round the past two years. … The Cougars have been in Los Angeles since last Wednesday. … WSU point guard Reggie Moore leads the Pac-12 with 5.3 assists per game. … Barring a title run, which vaults a team into the NCAA tournament bid, the Cougars and Beavers hope to play in a lesser post-season tournament. … On Tuesday, the Cougars were named one of four hosts for early games in the College Basketball Experience. No opponents or dates were announced, but the four hosts – WSU, Kansas, Saint Louis and Texas A&M – will play in the championship and consolation rounds Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City.
WASHINGTON STATE (15-15) VS. OREGON STATE (17-13)
12:10 p.m., Staples Center, Los Angeles.
TV: Root Sports. Radio: 770-AM.
Series: Oregon State leads, 162-122. WSU has won the past four meetings, and 10 of the past 12.
Scouting report: The Cougars have struggled mightily to sink shots from anywhere on the court the past three games, but Oregon State is last in the Pacific-12 Conference in defense and is 0-4 against WSU the past two seasons. Cunningham, a potential NBA player, is long and athletic and ranks among the national leaders in steals. Cunningham and Motum can score in a variety of ways, and Motum is the only Cougar who consistently produces on offense. Motum and Capers, whose offense consists largely of dunks and putbacks, are the only WSU starters shooting more than 40 percent from the field. Capers figures to do much of the defensive work against Cunningham, who scored 33 in his last game against WSU.
Next: The WSU-Oregon State winner plays Washington in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals at 12:10 p.m. Thursday at Staples Center (Root Sports).
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer