HOOPS: Since Lodwick talk, Cougs 6-0

SPOKANE – The season was just six games old, but Abe Lodwick sensed that his Washington State basketball team was flirting with disaster. The Cougars had capped an 0-3 showing at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., by blowing a 14-point lead in the final seven minutes of a 64-63 loss to underwhelming UC Riverside. The loss dropped Washington State to 2-4. Lodwick took matters into his own hands...

Lodwick, a two-year starter, was still five games away from making his season debut due to a fractured foot. If Lodwick's foot was not up to par, his mouth proved to be in excellent working order when he addressed his teammates in the locker room after the Riverside game.

"I just felt it was a good opportunity to say what was in my heart. I feel like the guys responded well to it," Lodwick said Wednesday morning prior to WSU's practice at the Spokane Arena. The Cougars open the Pac-12 season Thursday night against Oregon (6 p.m., CSN-NW) in Spokane.

"I wanted to show the guys how much it meant to me, especially as a senior, because I know that there's other guys on the team that feel the same way. I just really wanted to vocalize that and let the guys know that what was happening just was not really acceptable. They were down, but I told them to keep their chins up."

Coincidentally or not, the Cougars are 6-0 since the Riverside game.

"I was real upset after our last game down there," Lodwick said. "I think everyone was. I think we're going to look back at that as a blessing. Obviously, we haven't lost since then. I think we responded as we should have. That was a point in our season where we could have mailed it in or we could respond with a little bit of passion."

LODWICK AND FELLOW tri-captain Mike Ladd, who had a thumb injury, returned to the lineup two games ago along with leading scorer Faisal Aden (concussion). All three are expected to come off the bench for at least one more game Thursday, and Lodwick – whom coach Ken Bone once described as a "no-maintenance guy" – said he has no qualms about not starting.

"Any way I can help the team, I want to do that. That's my role," Lodwick said. "I'm glad that I don't have to come back and feel all the pressure to be starting (right away). If I'm coming off the bench, then I feel like we're doing all right, so it's not bad at all."

The 6-foot-7 Lodwick, a former shooting guard who gradually morphed into an undersized power forward, has been replaced in the starting lineup by 6-10 Charlie Enquist. The latter has enjoyed a break-out season as a fifth-year senior, shooting a remarkable 81 percent from the field (34 for 42) and averaging 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. All those numbers are significantly better than Lodwick's career highs.

"Charlie's been here the whole time I've been here," Lodwick noted. "He's one of my best friends here, so to see him step and do well is great."

LODWICK SAID prior to the season that Enquist had improved over the off-season, but Lodwick admits to being "real surprised" that Enquist has improved so dramatically after seeing little playing time in previous years.

"For him to see a few shots go down, for him to get some minutes; it's just a rhythm," Lodwick said. "Charlie's a really good player. I've seen it in him. I've seen it in open gyms. I've seen all that stuff. What he needed was opportunity, and unfortunately for me, that was me being injured. At the end of the day, he's my teammate; he's my brother. I couldn't be happier for him."

Injuries have played havoc with WSU's starting lineup and rotation, but Lodwick said, "I think we're well-prepared (for the start of Pac-12 play). As well as we can be, at least with the injuries that we've had. The thing about the injuries is that we had backs against the wall and guys that needed to step up really did. I don't think there's anyone that hid during that time.

"The way I see it, if we don't get stronger with these guys coming back, we're not doing our job. I think we'll keep progressing in the right direction."

Lodwick, who has six points and six rebounds in 31 minutes of playing time in his two games, said he "definitely" agrees with the consensus opinion that the Pac-12 is down this year.

"It's good for us," Lodwick said. "because we're playing good ball right now. That, combined with nobody really giving us much of a Chance Early in the season, I think gives us a great shot to finish the season strong and in the upper half of the Pac-12 for sure."

LODWICK IS JUST thankful the Cougars – who lost senior-to-be standouts Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to the pros – aren't playing in the 2007-08 Pac-10. Lodwick redshirted that year, when perhaps the best WSU team of all-time finished 26-9 and reached the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Current NBAers like O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook and Robin Lopez graced the rosters of Pac-10 teams that year.

"We had so many first- and second-year guys going (high in the NBA draft)," Lodwick recalled. "You'd think it would have rebounded by now, but it really hasn't. It's one of those deals where we're still a pretty young league. We've got some good young players. I think the Pac-12 will have its day in the sun again in a year or two."

By then, Lodwick hopes to have played in a lower-level pro league in Europe and/or possibly started law school. The two-time Pac-10 All-Academic player is considering a career as an attorney. He interned last summer at the Spokane law office of former WSU basketball star Terry Kelly.

"I had a lot of fun," Lodwick said.

Presumably, Lodwick would have even more fun if he helped lead the Cougars to the post-season for the fifth time in six years.

The Washington State Cougars have won six straight basketball games, and the Cougars are showing everyone they're winners off the basketball court, too. The Cougars, who kick off their Pacific-12 Conference schedule with games at the Spokane Arena on Thursday and Saturday, visited the Sacred Heart Children's Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. On Friday, the Cougars and the Spokane YMCA will team up to provide a basketball clinic for local youths. Registration is closed. The Cougars worked with WSU's Campus YMCA to provide a free youth basketball clinic last summer in Pullman. The team also was involved with the Palouse Habitat for Humanity last summer. Habitat for Humanity builds homes for low-income families.

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