Washington St. Cougars vs. Washington Huskies Pick & Prediction MARCH 7th 2024

These are heady times on the Palouse.

Washington State is ranked No. 18 nationally, the highest the Cougars have been since 2008. They’ve tied a program record for most conference victories in a season with 14.

And Thursday night in Pullman, Wash., they’ll host Washington in the regular-season finale. Barring a matchup in the Pac-12 tournament, it will be the last meeting between the rivals as members of the same conference. The Huskies are headed to the Big Ten next season, while the Cougars will contend with Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference.

The Cougars (23-7, 14-5 Pac-12) drew crowds of more than 8,000 for victories against USC and UCLA last weekend. They could come close to a capacity crowd of 11,671 at Beasley Coliseum when they play the Huskies (16-14, 8-11).

“The way the schedule fell out, I just thought if we were doing well, there’d be a chance to get some good crowds heading into the postseason,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said.

It doesn’t hurt that the Cougars are 15-1 at home this season.

“I feel invincible at home,” Washington State guard Jaylen Wells said after scoring a season-high 27 points and making all 10 of his free-throw attempts in a 77-65 victory against UCLA on Saturday.

Guard Myles Rice, a leading contender for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, added 18 points and four assists for the Cougars. Forwards Isaac Jones and Andrej Jakimovski combined for 21 points and 14 rebounds.

The Cougars are a half-game behind fifth-ranked Arizona in the race for the top spot in the conference.

Smith has liked what he’s seen from his team, so much so that he recently penned the “Ballad of the Palouse.”

“It talks about building the culture, kind of embodies what it is to be a Coug,” Smith said. “Let’s let it ride.”

If there’s one concern for the Cougars, it’s their recent habit of slow starts. They fell behind USC 10-4 and UCLA 19-6 last weekend, and 18-6 at Arizona State on Feb. 24, their only loss in the past 11 games.

“I feel like we kind of got shocked by their aggressiveness, which can’t happen next game,” Wells said. “But it kind of just speaks to how together we are. We just kind of rallied, kept pushing, kept fighting. But that can’t keep happening. I mean, it happened last game, happened this game. Thursday, it better not happen.”

The Huskies are in ninth place in the conference, which means they’d have to play a first-round game next week at the Pac-12 tournament. But they’re only a half-game behind Arizona State for the last first-round bye and hold the tie-breakers after having twice defeated the Sun Devils this season.

Washington is led by a pair of transfers from Kentucky in forward Keion Brooks Jr. and point guard Sahvir Wheeler.

Brooks, in his second season in Seattle, is averaging a conference-leading 21.3 points per game, while Wheeler is second with a team-best 6.0 assists.

The Huskies have been up and down this season. After an impressive 94-77 victory against visiting UCLA last Thursday — Brooks scored 32 points, making a career-high six 3-pointers — they lost 82-75 to USC on Saturday.

“Gosh, I can’t explain it,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “I felt like at the start of the game, we didn’t have juice. Felt like the batteries were emptied mentally (and) physically.”

Washington State defeated the Huskies 90-87 in overtime on Feb. 3 in Seattle. Jones scored 20 points in that game, including a tying dunk in the closing seconds of regulation, and Rice added five of his 18 points in the extra session. Brooks tallied 35 but missed an off-balance 3-pointer at the end of overtime.

–Field Level Media

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