Balance of Power

Washington State is changing the balance of power in the Pac-10 Conference, but coach Tony Bennett knows that Arizona is still a tough place to play.

The sixth-ranked Cougars will be trying to avoid another road defeat on Thursday when they visit the Wildcats at the McKale Center.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Arizona –1.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Washington State +1.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Washington State (16-1, 4-1 Pac-10) is the highest-ranked team in the Pac-10 and tied with No. 8 UCLA and No. 24 Arizona State for the best conference records. The Cougars will play the Sun Devils on Saturday.

First, however, they will visit an Arizona team they swept last season after dropping 41 of the 42 previous meetings. The Wildcats (12-6, 2-3) have lost three of their first five conference games, and were off to their worst start in 25 years before rallying to defeat California 79-75 on Saturday.

Still, the Wildcats' early struggles have put their string of 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances - the longest active streak in the nation - in jeopardy. Long-time Arizona coach Lute Olson has taken a leave of absence from the team, leaving it in the hands of assistant and eventual successor Kevin O'Neill.

"He's a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach," Bennett said of O'Neill. "They are trying to become a physical, sound, aggressive defensive team."

The Cougars are coming off a home sweep of Oregon State and Oregon, and moved up from No. 8 in Monday's top 25 poll. The two wins came on the heels of an 81-74 loss at then-No. 4 UCLA on Jan. 12.

Sunday's 69-60 win over the Ducks was Washington State's first in that series since 2001. Taylor Rochestie made four free throws in the final 42 seconds - his only points - to help Washington State seal the win.

"I just wanted to get one win before I graduate, at least," said Derrick Low, who scored 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting.

The Cougars are allowing 52.5 points per game, the fewest in the nation. Washington State has allowed fewer than 65 points in all but two of its games.

Arizona is averaging 73.3 points, but had trouble finishing off games before Saturday's win. The Wildcats went 8-of-9 from the stripe in the final 48 seconds against the Golden Bears after missing three layups and two free throws in their last four possessions of Thursday's 56-52 loss to Stanford.

"This was big because we had two games in a row where we didn't close out," said O'Neill, whose team made a season-high 11 3-pointers. "Tonight, we closed out and that's big for us. It's a confidence builder and something we can work off of."

Part of the problem has been Arizona's lack of depth - four of the Wildcats' starters are averaging 36 minutes or more in five Pac-10 games, with forward Chase Budinger leading at 38.8 minutes per game.

"It is a concern any time your top players are playing the amount of minutes our guys are," O'Neill said. "In order for us to win I feel like we have to play those guys big minutes."

Despite Washington State's sweep last season, Arizona still leads the all-time series 48-13.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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