A Players' Program: Washington State preview - Tucson News Now

A Players' Program: Washington State preview

PULLMAN, WA (AP) -

Arizona opened a three-game road swing with a surprising defeat before regrouping with relative ease.

The seventh-ranked and heavily favored Wildcats would appear to have another favorable matchup in store Sunday at Washington State.

Tied with No. 11 Utah atop the Pac-12, Arizona (21-3, 9-2) is looking to make it two in a row after cruising to an 86-62 win at Washington on Friday. Stanley Johnson led the way with 20 points and T.J. McConnell added 10 and 10 assists as the Wildcats got back to form after falling 81-78 at Arizona State last Saturday.

Arizona's defeats have been decided by two, three and four points, and all have come on the road.

"We pretty much said no team is going to beat us the way Arizona State did," said McConnell, whose team shot 52.5 percent while holding the Huskies to 35.2 percent. "We're going to play hard and let the chips fall where they may. If we play hard and somebody beats us, it wasn't our night then."

The Wildcats should be feeling good about their chances Sunday given their domination of Washington State. Arizona has taken seven straight in the series, including an eye-popping 60-25 win the last time these teams met Jan. 2, 2014. The Cougars, who posted their lowest point total since 1938 in that game, could be in for another quiet offensive display against a Wildcats defense holding teams to an average of 59.3 points.

Washington State (11-13, 5-7), on the other hand, is giving up 75.8 per game - the worst for any team from a major conference. The Cougars did just enough to squeak by Arizona State 74-71 on Friday for their second win in eight games, giving them five in conference play for the first time since finishing 7-11 in 2011-12.

"Happy with the win, but I look forward to the day where we don't think any win is a great win," coach Ernie Kent said. "If we don't play better defense than we played tonight, Arizona will beat us by 30. ... We have to do a much better job on Sunday.

"There's a beast coming in here. We know the challenge ahead of us, it is a humongous challenge. Everybody's going to have to be - I don't want to say perfect - but eight out of 10 times down the floor defensively you better be on your job."

The Cougars have dropped five straight and 13 of their last 14 against Top 25 foes, including both matchups this season by a combined 37 points.

DaVonte Lacy leads Washington State with 16.9 points per game and Josh Hawkins on ranks second at 14.8, but they're the only players averaging double figures. Senior Dexter Kernich-Drew, however, has come out of nowhere to score 45 points in the last two games, including a career-high 27 against the Sun Devils in his first start since Nov. 27.

"I'm extremely happy for him that he can have that type of success," Kent said. "I don't expect Dex to have 27 points every night, but just to play with that kind of energy and confidence."

Johnson is averaging a team-leading 14.8 points for Arizona to rank first among Pac-12 freshmen. He also leads the Wildcats with 6.8 rebounds per game.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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