This Week in Cougar Hoops

JUST ONE more tune-up before Washington State enters the meat of its season and begins Pac-12 Conference play. It's another home-away-from-home game as the Cougars travel Saturday to Kennewick to play Idaho State.

Pac-12 play kicks off in style, as the Cougars open the league season at home against Apple Cup rival Washington on Jan. 5.

Are the Cougars ready to make a run at a top-half finish in league? You're plenty optimistic to say yes. Based on performances heading into Christmas, it appears Arizona, Colorado and Oregon are certain to finish among the Pac-12's top six. A case can be made for UCLA and California, perhaps even Stanford, and for that matter, just about all teams except Utah and USC.

The quick take on WSU: the Cougars probably won't sweep their league home slate, but if the Gonzaga performance is an indication, they'll be a tough out every night. Going 7-2 in Pullman isn't a reach. As for the nine road games, the Cougs make two-game trips to Los Angeles, the Bay area, Oregon and Arizona, plus Seattle. ThIt means WSU misses a very tough trip to Colorado, but a winnable game at Utah.

WSU plays enough defense to think two road wins are possible, meaning a .500 overall record. Assuming the Cougars beat Idaho State, that's 18-13 heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Maybe it's not what Cougar dreamers had in mind, but an 18-win season from this team doesn't seem far off projections.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Freshman forward Junior Longrus has 11 blocks in the Cougs' first 12 games this season. That's the second-most on the team behind Brock Motum's 14. The output is especially notable because Longrus only plays an average of 12.2 minutes per game. Longrus will need to see those minutes increase if he is going to challenge DeAngelo Casto's WSU freshman record for blocks (39 in 2008-09).

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