After winning just nine games last season, the Washington State Cougars men's basketball team improved this year, posting 13 overall wins as they head into the Pac-12 Tournament this week. That four-game improvement may not seem like much, but when a program has just six NCAA Tournament appearances ever, the small things can be appreciated. The No. 10-seeded Cougars will play the Colorado Buffaloes, the seventh seed, on Wednesday evening (tickets are available here) in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Center as the Pac-12 champion-crowning competition gets under way.
Regular season stats: 70.5 points per game scoring (243rd of 351 NCAA Division I schools), 76.8 points per game allowed (281st of 351)
Conference record: 6-12 (T9th place)
Overall record: 13-17, .433 winning percentage (247th of 351)
Home record: 9-7
Road record: 2-7
Best win: The Cougars can hang their hats in the state of Washington this year anywhere they want, as they swept rival Washington this season. A 79-74 win on New Year's Day in Seattle was one of just two road wins this year for WSU, and the Cougars followed it up with a 79-71 victory at home over the Huskies on February 26. It was the first regular-season sweep of Washington in six years for Washington State. No, the Huskies weren't very good this season, but no one in Pullman really cares right now.
Worst loss: A 16-point home loss to a member of the Southland Conference looks bad on any team's schedule, and that's exactly what happened to the Cougars on December 3. Even though the New Orleans Privateers won their regular-season conference title, a Pac-12 team can't be getting walloped on its home court like that by one of the "little guys" in college basketball. WSU shot just 21.1 percent from three-point range as it lost a game it should have won.
Best Player: Senior forward Josh Hawkinson played a whopping 35.4 minutes per game this season, and he made every one of those minutes count. He led the Cougars in scoring (15.6 points per game) and rebounding (10.1), while also chipping in 2.4 assists per contest. Averaging a double-double effort every night out is something to be proud of at any level of competition, and Hawkinson posted 24 points per game against the Washington Huskies as a senior. That made the sweep even sweeter for him.
Pac-12 Tournament outlook: The Cougars earned a split this season with the Colorado Buffaloes, winning narrowly (91-89) in overtime at home in Pullman and getting blown out (81-49) on the road in Boulder. That doesn't bode well for the matchup Wednesday night in Las Vegas, as WSU has only two wins away from its home court this year. Obviously, the Cougars can pull off the upset, but to do so, they'll have to improve on the 38.6-percent shooting percentage and 22 turnovers that sunk them in the ugly road loss to Colorado. Hawkinson scored just eight points in that defeat.
Tickets to Session 2, featuring the Colorado-Washington State and USC-Washington games on Wednesday evening, can be purchased here.