The Cougars play the Bobcats on Friday night with plans to extend the win streak to six. The game is in Pullman again as WSU has yet to play a game on the road. Their one scheduled road trip was cancelled meaning the Cougars won’t play on the road until January 7th.
The Montana State Bobcats are 2-1 on the year with a good win over the University of Las Vegas, but an ugly loss against the University of the Pacific.
This MSU team has three players averaging in double figures being led by redshirt senior guard Xavier Bishop who’s averaging 18.5 points per game.
The Bobcats are playing their games in the nineties while the Cougars are hovering around the fifty or sixty mark each game. Montana State is averaging 91.7 points per game as team to WSU’s 63.2.
The Bobcats are strong offensively and struggle on defense which is perfect for how this Cougar team is constructed. WSU is dominating on the defensive side and struggling on offense. The defense of the Cougars will handle the offense of the Bobcats just fine while the lack luster defense for MSU will allow WSU to find a rhythm offensively.
Another advantage for the Cougars is the level of experience this team already has in close games. The Bobcats two victories on the year were blowouts while WSU has made every game interesting. Learning how to win close games is a skill this team has so if this game is tight down the wire it’s advantage WSU.
The emergence of sophomore guard Noah Williams has been the driving force in WSU’s hot start. Williams points per game has gone from 6.2 as a freshman all the way to 13.6 points per game so far this year.
A reason for the boost in scoring comes from increased shot attempts as CJ Elleby departed for the NBA, but it’s what Williams is doing with the shot attempts that jumps off of the page.
As a sophomore, Williams shot 36.6 percent from the field compared to the 51.1 percent he’s shooting this year. And while that’s a major leap, his most impressive improvement comes from beyond the arc. Williams shot 4-of-27 from the three point line last year. This year he is already 6-of-12.
Offensively, Williams has been incredible, but it’s what he does on the defensive side of the ball that gives him so much value. Pairing the defensive effort with the timely steals and charges has made him a monster on defense.
Senior guard Isaac Bonton started his collegiate career with Montana State so expect him to shoot for a big game. His efficiency hasn’t been where it needs to be, but if Bonton can get himself into some sort of a rhythm, this Montana State team may be in for a rough night.
Bonton is still leading this team in scoring at 17.4 points per game, but he is shooting 28.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from the beyond the arc and the biggest concern comes at the free-throw line.
As a junior, Bonton shot in the mid eighties at the line ranking him in the top tier of Pac-12 free-throw shooters. This year his free-throw percentage has fallen to 67.5 percent.
The shooting slump could be from the increase in pressure as Bonton has become the focal point of the offense with CJ Elleby gone, but Bonton is to talented to perform like this all year. When he finds his rhythm, he will be a force on offense as his ability to create space allows him to get a shot off whenever he wants.
The game tonight is at 6 p.m. in Beasley Coliseum and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. Expect hardnosed defense from the Cougars, consistency from Noah Williams, and Isaac Bonton to explode versus his former team.
(Photos by: Bob Hubner – WSU Athletics)