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As second-seeded WSU enters Pac-12 Tournament, how can Myles Rice get going again from deep?

Mar. 11—PULLMAN — As much as Myles Rice is Washington State's leader, steering the No. 18 Cougars in the right direction at nearly every turn, sometimes he remembers he needs to be pushed, too.

Sometimes he's losing too many turnovers. Making mistakes on defense. Typical stuff of a redshirt freshman, even a 21-year-old one like Rice.

Other times, like when WSU swept Stanford and Cal last month, Rice's teammates got in his ear about something else entirely. They wanted Rice to shoot it more, to venture outside his comfort zone of the midrange. You're wide open, bro, his teammates told him. Just shoot it.

That weekend, Rice did shoot it. He cashed 3 of 4 long balls against Cal, 2 of 7 against Stanford. In two games, he sunk 5 of 9 triples, a sizzling mark of 56%. As he combined his lethal speed with a reliable 3-point shot, he looked unguardable, a flamethrowing speedster who showed nearly no holes in his game.

"We work on it every day after practice," Rice said after his group's win over Cal. "You just gotta have confidence in it."

Nearly a month later, it seems like Rice has lost a little confidence in that part of his game. Since WSU's win over Stanford, on Feb. 17, Rice has not made a triple. He has gone 0 for 14 in this five-game stretch, missing his last two long balls against Stanford, four against Arizona and two apiece in the four games that followed. For the season, he is shooting 29.6% from deep, including 24.7% in conference play, on 3.7 attempts per game.

It bears revisiting because in Thursday's Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals in Las Vegas, No. 2 seed WSU will get the winner of No. 7 California and No. 10 Stanford. Rice has yet to find the nylon from deep since his team played those same teams a month ago. Could the Golden Bears' or Cardinal's defense give Rice the same looks from deep? If not, how can Rice get going from beyond the arc — and how much does it matter?

WSU's quarterfinal game is set for 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network. The Cougs went 3-1 against Stanford and Cal this season, topping the Cardinal twice and going 1-1 against the Golden Bears, including an overtime loss in the Bay Area.

Rice has never fashioned himself a marksman. If he had it his way, he would score at the rim or in the midrange, where he has become lethal, burying Arizona with back-to-back buckets from that spot in a home win in January. Just 29% of Rice's shots come from beyond the arc, per Hoop-Math, and 40% come on 2-point jumpers.

In WSU's regular-season finale, a loss to rival Washington on Thursday, Rice took two 3-pointers in the opening three minutes. He missed both, airballing one, leaving the other short. He played just 30 minutes, an uncharacteristically low total due to foul trouble, but he didn't attempt another 3-pointer the rest of the game.

On both of those attempts, he looked a little hesitant, like he wasn't sure if he really wanted to shoot it that deep. Here are the clips.

Contrast that with the way he approached the shots he hit against Cal. On both of these made 3s, he showed no hesitation.

On those shots, Rice looks more like a guy who was being encouraged by teammates. He goes right into his shot without thinking much about it. It paid off, and the Cougars ran away with an 84-65 win over the Golden Bears.

Which brings us to the way Rice's 3-point shot-making affects WSU's chances of winning. When he has made at least one triple, the Cougars have gone 6-2 in Pac-12 play. When he hasn't, WSU has gone 8-4.

That demonstrates a couple things: One, Washington State is just good, finding ways to win even when Rice has been off from deep — which has been the case more often than not. Two, the Cougs are better when Rice has it working from beyond the arc, thanks to the way it spaces the floor and allows his team to set its defense on the other end.

As WSU embarks on next week's Pac-12 Tournament, that part of the equation shouldn't go understated. The Cougars do have one of the country's best defenses, a matchup zone that forces opponents into an effective field goal mark of 47.2%, 30th in the nation. But they can't get into that defense when they're getting back in transition, which is often what happens off long rebounds, like off Rice's misses from deep.

If the Cougs get past the Golden Bears/Cardinal, they'll move on to Friday's semifinal, where they'll face three options of teams: No. 3 Colorado or the winner of No. 6 Utah/No. 11 Arizona State, the last of whom just lost its second-leading scorer, Jose Perez, who departed early for a professional opportunity overseas. In WSU's loss to ASU in late February, Perez logged a key 16 points.

Against those teams, Washington State logged these records: 1-1 against Colorado, 1-1 against Utah, 0-1 against ASU.