Here are five reasons to believe – yes, believe – in the 11th-seeded, 13-18 overall and 4-14 in Pac-12 play Cougs downing sixth-seeded Washington (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12).
1. Royce Woolridge v. Abdul Gaddy
WSU's combo-guard has steadily improved throughout his sophomore campaign, learning where and when to pick his spots to attack the rim within Bone's motion sets. Woolridge's shooting has improved as well. The Kansas transfer is playing his best ball of the season right now, and has reached double figures in 10 of his past 11 games. He knocked down five three-pointers in the Cougars' 76-51 win Saturday against USC. Gaddy and Woolridge's scoring numbers this season are identical. They both average 10.9 points-per-game. Woolridge, though, is younger, quicker and playing more efficiently as of late. He's shooting 38 percent from the three-point arc and knocks down 77 percent of free throws. Gaddy is weak in comparison (32.8 percent from three-point range and 65 percent from the line). They can exploit this matchup with nearly all UW's attention focused on slowing down Brock Motum.
The Cougars have it, and the Huskies don't. The Cougs are coming off convincing wins over USC and UCLA, while the Dawgs droppeda winnable regular season finale at home to the Bruins. Advanced statisticians will tell you that momentum doesn't exist. Tell that to a Colorado team which ran off four straight improbable wins to capture an NCAA Tournament berth last season. On a bigger scale, Connecticut – sitting near the bottom of the Big East regular-season in 2011, won five games in their conference tourney, and then rode that momentum to an NCAA Championship. Now I'm not comparing those teams' rosters to WSU's. The talent gap is too great. There is, however, a great advantage to playing your best basketball at the end of the season.
3. Kings of The Glass
WSU outrebounded USC 45-34 in Saturday's blowout win. Trojan seven-footers James Blasczyk and DeWayne Dedmon were apparently so upset that they got into a bar fight in Spokane on Saturday night to reaffirm their masculinity. Ok, so admittedly that's probably not why half of coach Bob Cantu's frontcourt engaged in a street brawl after the loss. But WSU's rebounding against the SoCal schools was remarkable. The Cougars' held a 46-23 advantage on the glass without Mike Ladd in Thursday's win over UCLA. Having him back healthy should help WSU avoid the second-chance points, which have killed them against the Huskies in the past.
4. Brock Motum
I almost feel guilty putting the tall Aussie this low on the list. Motum has scored in double figures in every game this season and just recently pushed past Mark Hendrickson for fifth all-time on WSU's career scoring list. His 31-point, 10-rebound performance against the Trojans could mean the senior is ready to orchestrate a monumental postseason run, which would be oh-so-sweet after injury sidelined him last post-season. If the Cougs are going to win two Pac-12 Tournament games for the first time in program history, Motum will need to bring his A game. He will be the best player on the court tonight but will need to figure out a way to overcome Desmond Simmons' lockdown defense. Here's another tidbit going the Cougars' way. Since Motum's parents and sister arrived state-side, Motum and the Cougs have been on fire. And the family will be in Las Vegas tonight. That's good luck times three.
5. Husky Woes
UW isn't especially talented this season. They struggle late in games with free throws and turn the ball over too often. It is difficult for me to count how many times I've heard a head coach talk about how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season (I'm a journalism major, after all). The Huskies barely escaped Alaska Airlines Arena with a 72-68 win over Cougs on March 3 and WSU let a late lead slip away in their conference-opening loss to the UW in Pullman.
Las Vegas betting lines opened with the Huskies as 2 1/2-point favorites. That's now down to 1 ½. Yep, everything is moving the Cougars' way for this one.
The winner of the Coug-Dawg game will square off against Oregon tomorrow night at 8:30.
BLOCKING OUT N'DIAYE IN THE PAINT FIGURES TO BE A HIGH PRIORITY FOR COUGS TONIGHT.