This Week in Cougar Hoops...will be big

WE'RE GOING TO learn a lot about Washington State this week as the Cougars take their men's basketball show on the road starting Wednesday. And make no mistake, this is a very big week for Wazzu on the hardcourt.

Actually, we already found out a little Sunday night about WSU when they pulled out a 85-79 overtime win at Santa Clara.

Say what you want about the Santa Clara, but the college basketball road is littered with unheralded home teams scoring big upsets during December. The Broncos were in position to spoil what has been a great start to Washington State's season, yet the Cougars showed us they have a bit of grit and determination.

Something the state's other Pac-10 team rarely shows when it hits the road.

Sunday's game was perfectly lining up for a Santa Clara upset. Klay Thompson missed his first nine shots of the second half. The Broncos made their first 30 free throws. The Cougars were about to head for Hawaii with a Santa Clara hangover.

Then Thompson showed the maturity that is beginning to become commonplace during his junior season. Thompson didn't hesitate to shoot – and make – a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game. Once into overtime, Thompson took over, scoring seven of his game-high 23 points.

I'm not the first to say you may be watching a Pac-10 Player of the Year campaign in the making in Thompson.

DO NOT BE one bit alarmed that Washington State had to go overtime to beat Santa Clara. The Cougars were coming off Finals week and a nine-day gap in between games. The Broncos, though 6-6, are capable.

That WSU won the game is enough. And better that the Cougars did it with their trademark style, holding the opponent to an embarrassing field goal percentage. Santa Clara shot 30.5 percent from the floor.

Indeed, field goal percentage defense is a much better barometer than points allowed when it comes to defense. WSU currently ranks 5th in the country in field goal defense at 35.8 percent according to the official NCAA stats. The Cougs' Marcus Capers is one of the big reasons why.

Capers, by the way, also ranks No. 1 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, at 5.80. The second best in the land is nearly a full 1.5 behind, at 4.33.

The week ahead: Washington State's final tune up for the Pacific-10 season takes place at the Diamond Head Classic, an eight-team tournament that begins Wednesday in Honolulu.

Check your TV package by Wednesday if you want to catch WSU's opener, as the Cougars play Mississippi State at 12 p.m. Pacific time on ESPNU.

On Thursday, Washington State plays either San Diego or Baylor, depending on the outcome of the opening-round games. Three of the four games on Thursday will be broadcast on ESPNU, with the fourth being televised on ESPN2.

After taking Friday off, the final days games are scheduled for Christmas, with the championship game at 6:30 p.m. PT. Two of the four games on Dec. 25 are not scheduled to be televised, the other two, including the championship game, are scheduled for ESPN2.

Games in the lower bracket include Utah vs. Butler and Florida State vs. Hawaii.

Baylor is the lone Top 25 team in the Diamond Head Classic, ranked No. 15 in the coaches poll. The Bears were unbeaten until last Saturday, when Gonzaga stunned Baylor 68-64 in Dallas.

Washington State has yet to crack the Top 25, but the guess here is that voters won't be able to ignore the Cougars if they win the Diamond Head and emerge with an 11-1 record. While the Diamond Head isn't a great field, it's a good test, and to win, WSU will have to win three games in four days, not easy regardless of the competition.

The first game is somewhat of a breather. Even though Mississippi State is 7-3, the Bulldogs haven't beaten any team of note, and come to Hawaii off an 88-57 loss to Virginia Tech.

The most interesting facet of Mississippi State is Renardo Sidney. Considered by some as the gem of the 2010 recruiting class only have his college career sidetracked by the NCAA, Sidney made his college debut against Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds during a 25-minute stint against the Hokies.

Sidney may pose a problem for the smallish Cougars down low, if his boasts prove true.

"Nobody can stop me in the post, and I showed it last night," Sidney told Fox Sports after the Virginia Tech game.

Note: It turns out Sidney can be stopped. Following this article's publication, it was announced on Tuesday that Sidney had been suspended for the game against Wazzu for "conduct detrimental to the team." The Clarion Ledger reported Sidney's outburst during a team practice Monday in Hawaii led to the suspension.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at

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