THIS WEEK IN WSU HOOPS: Tourney starts today

IF THE COUGARS want to earn another Great Alaska Shootout title (2009), they’ll have to do something that's proven difficult the past two-plus seasons: win on the road. The Cougs have won three combined road games in that time, a total they’d need to equal over the next three days to win the tourney. Their opponent tonight (CBS Sports Network, 9 p.m.) may provide the most difficult test of all.

The Cougars open against UC Santa Barbara and Coug Nation gets too see if opening on the road at UTEP and TCU with a young Cougar team – and now knowing what to expect and how to handle playing away from Beasley -- will pay dividends for Washington State (1-2) in Alaska.

First and foremost, the Cougs need to correct their slow starts, something they also did at home in their 80-68 win over Idaho State. At UTEP, Wazzu has two missed layups and three turnovers on their first five possessions. The Cougars allowed TCU to take a virtually unsurmountable 14-0 lead. Against Idaho State, WSU managed to score two points in the first five minutes.

The Cougars need to start the game attacking early and hitting shots consistently, particularly the open shots. It starts with giving sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson and DaVonte Lacy the ball.

Hawkinson is the hottest player for the Cougars right now and is coming off of a 26-point, 15-rebound night in the win over ISU. And as Kent said this week, feeding the ball to Hawkinson opens up a lot of options for the Cougars on offense -- Hawkinson can either shoot the ball, post up or kick it out to an open Lacy, Que Johnson or Dexter Kernich-Drew (pictured above) for a three point shot.

Drew in particular has been seldom seen. In three starts he's shot 3-14 from the field, averaging 3.0 ppg and 15.7 minutes. A productive Kernich-Drew would help the Cougars immensely in Alaska.

Lacy showed glimpses of his old self last week against Idaho State where he heated up in the second half. At the end, he’d racked up 25 points and hit seven of 15 from the field.

The tip-off: Washington State (1-2) vs UC Santa Barbara (1-2) Thursday at 9 p.m. PST in Alaska Airlines Center; Anchorage, Alaska. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. The winner of the game plays the winner of Rice vs. Mercer on Friday. (If the Cougs win, another 9 p.m. game on CBS-SN. If they lose the opener, Game 2 is at 3 p.m., no TV.)

The rankings: None of the eight teams competing in this tournament are ranked in the top 25. Statistical wizard Ken Pomeroy has UC Santa Barbara at No. 94, WSU at No. 181.

About UC Santa Barbara: Like the Cougars, UC Santa Barbara also started its season with two road games. The Gauchos lost by 10 points at No. 5 Kansas and then dropped an overtime decision at Florida Golf Coast (4-0). UC Santa Barbara is coming off of a 91-45 home win over Masters College. The Gauchos’ starting lineup includes two juniors and two seniors, led by center Alan Williams who is averaging 21 points, 12.3 rebounds and three assists. Williams is considered to be a NBA caliber player and will be a tough matchup for the Cougars down in the paint.

The series: Tied at 1-1. The last time the Cougars and Gauchos faced off was on Dec. 6, 1985 where the Cougars lost 73-70 at UCSB. The first meeting was on Dec. 20, 1984 in Pullman, where WSU won 80-69.

The rest of the field: On Wednesday, Nov. 26: Pacific (2-2) vs Alaska Anchorage (2-4) at 7:30 p.m., Missouri State (2-1) vs. Colorado State (3-0) at 10 p.m.

Also today: Rice (1-2) vs. Mercer (2-2) at 5:30 p.m. (Winner faces winner of WSU vs. UCSB)

The bracket for the Great Alaska Shootout: CLICK HERE

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