Besides Steve Lavin at UCLA only one other Pac-10 men's basketball coach is on the hot seat this year and that coach is Phil Graham at Washington State (5-13 overall; 0-9 Pac-10). In his 4th season as head coach of the Cougars, Graham's teams have seen little if any reasonable success, and this year the team is winless at the halfway point of conference play. Injuries have played a major role in taking an already average team at best, and turning it into a squad that has almost been non-competitive at times.
Star point guard Marcus Moore was lost for the season with bone spurs in an ankle that became too painful to play on. Moore had led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists on the season. Three other starting players also missed time over the last month before returning in a game at Washington on January 31st. 6'8 senior Milton Riley had missed 6 games with a fracture in his back, 6'7 sophomore Shami Gill missed 6 games as well with a stress reaction in his leg and 6'8 junior Ezenwa Ukeagu had his appendix removed and missed 4 games.
Due in large part to the injuries, Washington State has remarkably started 11 different players this year. The likely starters against Arizona State (13-7; 5-4) are 6' junior Nick Graham, a player who has started the 3 games since Moore was lost for the year, 6'5 sophomore Thomas Kelati, 6'6 senior Cedrick Hughey, Riley, and Gill.
Graham is a player who has provided only about 10 minutes of action per game, primarily due to the presence of Moore. Kelati is a gunner, averaging over 5 three point attempts per game and is leading the team in scoring if you don't include Moore. Hughey is the do-everthing utility man. He rebounds, defends and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Of course, he isn't likely to beat you either. Riley is the leading shot blocker on the team by a wide margain and both he and Gill average around 7.5 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Off the bench Graham plays a number of players both in the front and backcourt. At guard, 6'2 senior Jerry McNair is a three point shooter, who hasn't had much success on the year. Over 60% of his attempts from the field are three pointers and yet he's only shooting 25% from that distance. 6'5 senior Justin Lyman is the team's second leading scorer and primary bench scorer. Chris Schlatter, a 6'6 sophomore forward has started 13 games on the year, and has played more minutes than any active player on the team other than Kelati, but is likely to come off the bench against the Sun Devils. Ukeagu, 7' junior Justin Kordsmeier, 6'9 junior Justin Bellegarde are three junior college transfers that have had little impact in this, their first year in Pullman, but all play limited minutes as does 6'4 redshirt freshman Randy Green.
The Sun Devils are looking to have a repeat performance of their 96-55 thumping of the Cougars in Tempe on January 11th, a loss that was the 8th worse all-time for WSU. This is an opportunity for ASU to build some confidence and establish some forward momentum after a tough one point loss Saturday against Stanford. Several players have been struggling of late for ASU most notably starting point guard Jason Braxton who has seemingly been in danger of losing his role as a starter all season long, and reserve wing Jamal Hill, a shooter with a sweet stroke that has turned sour recently after a strong first month in a Sun Devil uniform.
Washington doesn't have the size or athleticism to stay with the Sun Devils in the frontcourt. Tommy Smith and Ike Diogu should have a field day offensively as well as own the glass on both ends of the floor against a team that ranks last in the conference in scoring defense and defensive rebounding. If the Devils bring their defensive intensity, they should be able to create numerous turnovers and easy scoring opportunities against a team that ranks near the bottom in turnovers, and without its primary point guard, Marcus Moore. This is a game the Sun Devils should win handily.
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