This week in Cougar Hoops

IT WAS ONE game. But given what's happened during the first month of Washington State's 2011-12 basketball season, it's hope, the 75-49 win over Eastern Washington. Also, it's complex and confounding.

But hey, let's start with hope. After the beating Washington State absorbed in Anaheim, the 3-point barrage it withstood at Gonzaga and a couple of less-than-exciting performances against home court cupcakes, the romp over Eastern Washington is a step in a positive direction.

No, no. I'm not going to suddenly predict the Cougars are capable of 20 wins heading into a week with games against Idaho and Santa Clara. Once burned by this team, never again. But it was good to see that WSU finally got in sync with what Ken Bone preaches, a full-court game that involves everyone sharing the basketball.

There were still a mind-numbing number of turnovers (20), but at least someone other than Faisal Aden did the scoring. In fact, four Cougars reached double figures, including breakout games from Charlie Enquist and Dexter Kernich-Drew.

Let's not make Eastern Washington out to be Gonzaga, but the Eagles aren't bad. That the Cougars handled EWU from the opening tip gives some hope that the 2011-12 season might turn into something other than ashes.

Still, what makes the win over the Eagles confounding was the WSU players who were in street clothes: Aden, Mike Ladd (injuries) and D.J. Shelton (suspension). And don't forget, Abe Lodwick, who has been out all season with a foot injury.

It's not simply a given that once all return to the lineup, the new-and-improved Cougs will be even be better. Sharing the ball isn't exactly Aden's strength. Lodwick will provide an inside presence, but it might also give Reggie Moore more opportunities to add to his eye-popping turnover total this season.

Washington State is probably a better team with Aden, Ladd and Lodwick – let's just assume for now Shelton is a project that won't be ready until 2012-13 – than without. But the Eastern Washington performance leaves a little doubt. Good thing the Pac-12 season is still almost four weeks away.

The week ahead: Washington State (4-4) plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Idaho, followed by a 1 p.m. game Sunday against Santa Clara in Beasley Coliseum.

Washington State's series against Idaho is the oldest continuous rivalry West of the Mississippi River, and the sixth longest continuous rivalry nationally. The Cougars and Vandals have played 266 games, the first one coming in 1906, when WSU routed Idaho 28-11 and once played six times (1954-55) in a season.

Now it's a once-a-season affair, a series WSU has owned. The Cougars have an eight-game winning streak over Idaho, which has beaten Washington State just once in its past 14 games (2002). The Cougars lead the all-time series 159-107. Last year, Washington State romped 88-71 in Pullman, as Aden scored 26 points.

On paper, Idaho (4-3) looks like easy pickings for Washington State. Eastern Washington handled the Vandals, racing to a 27-7 lead on the way to a comfortable 73-66 win. Which probably means WSU is in for the fight of its life Wednesday.

Las Vegas thinks so, having installed Idaho as 1-point favorites.

The Vandals have three players averaging double figures in point guard Deremy Geiger, forward Kyle Barone and sophomore sharp-shooter Stephen Madison. Geiger led the Western Athletic Conference in free throw shooting percentage last season.

Washington State has far less history against Sunday's foe, Santa Clara (5-2). The schools have played three times, all WSU wins. This is a return home game for the Cougars, as the teams played last year at Santa Clara, where WSU won 85-79 in overtime.

While WSU belly-flopped in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Santa Clara went 2-1 and finished third. In overtime, the Broncos beat New Mexico – a team that defeated WSU the following day – and also topped Villanova. There's some quality to these Broncos.

Santa Clara's go-to players are guards Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore. Foster leads the Broncos at 17.4 points per game, with a season high of 26 points against New Mexico. Foster has shot 10 or more 3-pointers in five of seven games this season. In last year's OT loss to Washington State, Foster scored a regular-season high 29 points, Roquemore, who is averaging 16.4 points this season, shot just 3 of 12 against the Cougars last year.

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

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