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Amid No. 18 WSU's poor shooting in loss to UW, Andrej Jakimovski's shoulder injury became obvious

Mar. 9—PULLMAN — A few of the individual shooting performances that led to No. 18 Washington State's latest loss, a 74-68 setback to Washington in Thursday's regular-season finale, can likely be explained by funks. Uncharacteristic droughts. Off nights.

Wing Jaylen Wells, who entered shooting a borderline absurd 47% on 3-pointers in conference play, made just 1 of 10 tries from beyond the arc. Guard Myles Rice has never been a long-range shooter, but he's also in an extended slump, missing all 12 of his 3-point tries during his past five games.

Then there is the case of senior wing Andrej Jakimovski. He went 0 for 4 on 3-pointers, but he isn't just going through a drought. He's playing through pain in his shooting-arm shoulder, he admitted after the game, saying, "I don't want to make excuses or anything, but I couldn't lift my arm."

Over the past three games, Jakimovski has been wearing a multilayered arrangement of tape on his shoulder, which he appeared to injure in the opening minutes of WSU's win over USC on Feb. 29. Here is the clip.

Jakimovski was in visible pain in the moments following the collision with the screen from USC forward DJ Rodman, formerly a Cougar. He shook his arm and grabbed at it. He came out in the second half with his shoulder covered in tape, which he since has worn for each games ever since.

Since the apparent injury, Jakimovski has made 6 of 19 shots from beyond the arc, which translates to 32% — a few percentage points below his conference-play average of 35%. He made 4 of 10 against USC (nine attempts coming after the injury), 2 of 6 against UCLA and 0 of 4 against Washington.

He opened Thursday's game by cutting backdoor and finishing a layup off a feed from Rice. He then went on to miss all seven of the shots he took the rest of the game. Here are a few of those misses.

Except Jakimovski, a right-handed player, wasn't just favoring his left arm on shots. He did the same on passes and on defense, where he's particularly important for WSU, which relies on him for size and rebounding.

Here are a few clips of him using his left arm to make passes and contest shots.

It's also important to note that Jakimovski didn't close Thursday's game, not entirely. He entered the game with 9 minutes, 49 seconds to play, then subbed out with a shade over 2 minutes to play, true freshman guard Isaiah Watts taking his place. It was an unusual decision from WSU coach Kyle Smith, who almost always closes with his most experienced player on the court.

"I think rest will help," said Smith, whose team doesn't play again until Thursday, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. "You'd probably have to ask the docs, the trainers. They know better than me. ... I imagine it's something that's gonna probably nag him a little bit."

Smith did not provide a diagnosis after Thursday's game.

In recent days, Smith has acknowledged Jakimovski's injury, but he has never seemed to consider it serious. Last Saturday, after WSU's win over UCLA, Smith said, "(Trainers) said, 'It hurts when he shoots.' I said, 'That's fine. Does it affect the stroke?' They said, 'No.' I said, "All right. He won't feel it. He might feel it afterward. Just hit some big shots.' "

Jakimovski did that against UCLA. He hit a wing 3 that capped the 8-0 run the Cougars used to put the game away, going 2 for 6 from beyond the arc in that win.

But his performance has dropped off since, and not just on offense. Jakimovski's shoulder injury is clearly limiting him in other areas, like defense, passing and rebounding. He is averaging a career-high 5.5 rebounds per game this season. The Cougs need his defense and boards as much as they need his catch-and-shoot ability.

Can he provide that while dealing with this injury? He showed toughness to battle through it and play 36 minutes against USC and 34 against UCLA, but in 30 minutes in Thursday's game against UW, Jakimovski couldn't do so at the same level.

It's not Jakimovski's first time dealing with an injury of some kind. He missed the first 10 games of last season with an injury, and in the summer of 2021, he underwent surgery.

Washington State, which will be the No. 2 seed in next week's Pac-12 Tournament, might need others to step up if Jakimovski can't be himself. In that way, it's good news for WSU that Watts has emerged in a meaningful way, posting 15 points on three 3-pointers against Washington.

He has earned his recent boost in playing time thanks to his defense, which he showed off again on Thursday. He had two steals for breakaway dunks. He also pulled down six rebounds. He has scored in double figures in two of his past three games, coming off an 18-point showing against USC.

He may not be able to replace Jakimovski's presence — Watts is a slender, 6-3 guard, while Jakimovski is a strong, 6-8 wing — but he's showing he can be a stopgap solution. Whether he needs to continue filling that role remains to be seen.