The Washington teams are expected to be the head of the class (or very close to it, at least) by almost all followers of Pac-10 basketball, so this weekend is an undeniably important conference test for the Cardinal, who have already jumped out to a 2-1 conference record.
Stanford flexed its defensive muscle last week in the desert, holding Arizona State to a season-low 41 points in a 55-41 victory, but then fell 67-57 to a solid Arizona team out to a hot start and playing with a purpose after Saturday's shootings in Tucson.
The Cardinal can't quite seem to play consistently yet – the hallmark of a young team – and will be looking for a little more uniform performance this weekend against the visitors from the Pacific Northwest.
Washington (12-3, 4-0 Pac-10) comes into town first on Thursday night and the Huskies have been flawless for almost a month, racking up six straight wins after a last-second loss to Texas A&M. The Huskies are also trending favorably already in Pac-10 games. After an overtime victory against USC, Washington has steadily increased their margin of victory with each game (six over USC, 11 better than UCLA, 19 greater than Oregon, and 31 points over Oregon State).
So, the Huskies are trending well, and they appear to have a magic number on their side: Six. In addition to Washington's six-game winning streak, the Huskies: a) have won six straight games against Stanford, b) have won six straight Pac-10 road contests, and c) the Huskies are undefeated in Pac-10 play for the first time since 1984, when they started (you guessed it) 6-0.
And it may be tempting to blame this streak of success on the Count from Sesame Street (or someone even more nefarious), but the Huskies' dynamic duo of freshman Terrence Ross and senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning have been unstoppable lately.
Ross, a top tier recruit from Portland, OR, dropped a career-high 18 points on USC, then outdid himself the very next week with 25 points against Oregon. Bryan-Amaning, a native of London, England, had a double-double of 21 points and ten rebounds against UCLA, then knocked in 24 points against Oregon State.
The emergence of Ross and Bryan-Amaning couldn't have come at a better time
as the Huskies lost point-guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee
injury. Gaddy, a former McDonald's All-American, tore his ACL in practice
last week, and the blow looked like it could be too big to overcome for a Husky
team just starting Pac-10 play.
This of course is without even mentioning star guard Isaiah Thomas who has averaged 16.0 points per game, showing off why he was a preseason Wooden Award candidate.
The Cougars got out of the gates fast this season, but have fallen back to the pack recently. Washington State dropped back-to-back games against the LA schools to start the Pac-10 season, but they rebounded last week by knocking off both Oregon schools. Now the Cougars are left to play catch up to their counterparts from Seattle.
WSU jumped out to an 11-1 start, buoyed by junior Klay Thompson, who is averaging an eye-popping 22.3 points per game, which puts him 11th best in the nation. The Cougars have failed to distinguish themselves since Christmas day, though, as they have only a 2-3 record, including a loss to Butler (who is wreaking havoc on the Pac-10 this season, as Stanford can attest to).
It's somewhat hard to determine the identity of the Cougars, because they had a chance to really highlight themselves if they could have beaten USC and UCLA. Behind Thompson, the Cougars don't have a terrifying scoring threat (although transfer guard Faisal Aden is averaging 14.8 points per game), and they have rotated several players through their starting lineup this season.
Washington State did play better against Oregon and Oregon State (it looks like both Oregon schools could be in for a long, long season), but the Cougars are a team that is definitely reliant on one star to carry the team – not unlike Landry Fields for Stanford last year.
However, Stanford can't afford to take the Cougars lightly.
The big question for Washington State is if they can get their role players to step up. Sophomore guard Reggie Moore was arrested for marijuana possession last week, but he continues to play despite the arrest. Moore missed the first five games of the season due to injury, and his success or failure could go a long way towards helping the Cougars succeed - he averaged 12.7 points per game and 4.2 assists per game as a freshman last season.
Similarly, 6-8 power forward DeAngelo Casto is also underperforming. The big junior averaged 10.7 points per game last year to go along with seven rebounds a game, but this year has seen his numbers regress just slightly, dropping to 9.8 points per game and six rebounds a game.
It's pretty tough to predict how the Cougars will play – Thompson is a sure fire thing, but after that, they look vulnerable.
Stanford showed that it can play some good basketball last weekend and, more importantly, that a couple players can get into the act. Josh Owens was good in both games against the Arizona schools, and Jeremy Green played okay, but Jarrett Mann got into the act against the Sun Devils for 11 points of his own. If Mann can score some points – and if Dwight Powell can lock down the big men coming into Maples – I think the Cardinal can get a split. For now, I think Washington is too good to be overcome, but I've got a hunch that the Cardinal will sneak by Washington State.
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