This Week in Cougar Hoops

I HATE TO use that Pac-10 school on the west side of the state as an example as to why you shouldn't give up on Washington State after its 0-2 start to the league season, but it's apt. The Cougars are in a hole, no doubt about it after losing two games in Los Angeles.

They tote a three-game losing streak into this week's return to Pullman against the Oregon schools. That once-on-the-brink of a Top 25 ranking is now long gone.

Washington State didn't mathematically eliminate itself from Pac-10 title contention with the losses to UCLA and USC. But let's face it, an 0-2 start to the season makes that task all but impossible. Still, the Cougars' goal of getting to the NCAAs is doable.

See Washington.

Last year, the Huskies were 1-3 and 3-5 in Pac-10 play, yet they managed to make the NCAA field. In 2004, UW started the Pac-10 season 0-5, yet earned an NCAA berth by winning 15 of their final 16 games.

I don't know if this WSU team is good enough to get on that sort of a hot streak, but 0-2 isn't an 0-5 hole, either. The Cougars are good enough to survive 0-2. In fact, none other than Lorezno Romar said as much Monday evening in his radio show on KJR in Seattle. The Cougs were tired after two weeks on the road, he said, and he fully expects them to be fighting it out at the top of the Pac-10.

A 12-6 record ought to get WSU to the NCAAs, maybe even 11-7 or 10-6 with a big run in the Pac-10 tournament.

But the Cougars had better get on the stick this week. As home stands go, Washington State should be able to handle Oregon State and Oregon and get back to .500 in Pac-10 play.

But only if they regain their confidence following a weekend in Los Angeles that easily should have ended in a split.

The Cougars must have more than two players show up. The UCLA game was there for the taking, if someone other than Klay Thompson (26 points, five boards, three assists) and Faisal Aden (9 of 13, 19 points) steps up. It was DeAngelo Casto (18 points) and Thompson (17) against USC in a game where the Cougars' shooting (22 of 60) let them down.

One positive, if there's a positive to come out of LA: the toughest two-game Pac-10 road trip of the season is behind the Cougars. These aren't vintage UCLA and USC teams, but they've shown signs of quality this season. Stanford-Cal isn't as tough, Arizona State is borderline awful and Oregon can't shoot well enough to beat most Pac-10 teams.

THIS WEEK:
Washington State plays its first game in Pullman since Dec. 10 when the Cougars entertain Oregon State on Thursday at 7 p.m. (no TV), followed by a Saturday contest against Oregon.

If two weeks ago someone were to say the Pac-10 leaders play in Thursday's WSU-Oregon game, almost everyone would have said, yeah, the Cougars. But it's the Beavers, who in December lost to forgettable programs like Texas Southern and Utah Valley.

But suddenly, Oregon State has caught fire, winning three consecutive games, most recently an upset of Arizona. Go figure.

From a personnel standpoint, the only thing that has changed for OSU is heralded redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson, who finally became eligible in mid-December. The Beavers are scrappy, and are among the country's top 10 in steals at 11 per game. They'll mix up defenses, though OSU isn't a great defensive team. Oregon State's offense has picked up of late, as the Beavers have scored at least 74 points in their past four games. One player to watch is sophomore guard Jared Cunningham, OSU's leading scorer at 13.8 points per game.

It's a worrisome game given Washington State's shaky confidence, but one the Cougars should win.

Then there's Oregon on Saturday (7:30 p.m., FSN). The Cougars should not only win, but rout the Ducks, a team that hasn't cracked 35 percent shooting in its past four games. Oregon's top player is senior forward Joevan Catron. He's been neutralized of late because opponents are correctly gambling with a zone defense the Ducks can't bust with their poor shooting.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING:
With a collective 3-of-18 shooting performance from the field against the L.A. schools, point guard Reggie Moore's field goal accuracy for the season dropped to 34 percent. Last season he shot 42 percent from the field. Moore also managed only two assists during the L.A. swing, dropping his assists-per-game average to 3.6. A year ago he averaged more than four per game. Could it be that the layoff from his wrist injury at the start of the season set him farther back than we thought?

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

Cougfan Top Stories