WSU hoops: First taste of rivalry for 7 Cougs

PULLMAN – Washington State and Washington first played one another in basketball in 1910 in Pullman and Saturday’s tilt will be the 282nd all-time meeting between the two schools. But for seven Cougar basketball players, Saturday’s game (noon; Pac-12 Networks) will be the first time lacing up against the cross-state rival.

One of the seven is junior center Conor Clifford, who transferred to WSU from Saddleback College.

“Any Coug will know the rivalry that exists,” said Clifford. “As a basketball player, I felt it. It’s all around the U.S. People talk to me in airports … (but even) seeing our football team compete, I definitely have a greater understanding of the rivalry -- but even then I don’t think I’ve had the full experience until I play in it.”

Junior guard Ike Iroegbu, meanwhile, was well familiar with the rivalry before he even signed with the Cougs -- brother Chuks redshirted with WSU in 2011-12 as a walk on.

“When I was in high school, Chuks would always tell me how big this game was,” Iroegbu said. “When I committed, that was the first thing people would tell me, ‘Beat the Dawgs, beat the Huskies.’”

Iroegbu echoed Clifford saying that he’s also been stopped and talked to in airports about beating UW. However, another thing stands out to Iroegbu.

“Even at football games, when the football team’s … not even playing UW (the fans will) do a chant against the Huskies,” he laughed.

For junior forward Josh Hawkinson, Saturday’s game could mean a little more. Coming from Shoreline High, about seven miles north of the UW campus, Hawkinson wasn’t given much of a look by the Huskies. But there are no hard feelings, he says.

“I wouldn’t say it’s any extra motivation,” said Hawkinson. “I mean, I get why you might not want to recruit me or fit in certain styles or programs, so I mean I understand that. We gotta defend our home court, and we gotta come up with a win every time we step in Beasley.”

Among the big matchups to watch: Iroegbu vs. the Huskies’ best player, senior guard Andrew Andrews.  Washington State looked poised for a series sweep last season but in the second game, Andrews went off in Pullman with a career-high 35 points and hit the winning 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left.
Among Andrews’ skills is getting to the foul line. Iroegbu says the referees are calling more hand check fouls this season so he’ll need to be careful not to pick up the touch fouls.  Last time out against UCLA, Iroegbu picked up two early fouls and was forced to sit most of the first half.
“I just gotta do a good job of keeping him in front,” Iroegbu said of Andrews. “I gotta do a good job showing my hands (to avoid the hand check fouls).”
Washington State hosts the Huskies on Saturday at noon in Pullman and also on the Pac-12 Networks.

A win would improve Washington State’s record to 10-5, put the Cougs in a tie atop the Pac-12 at 2-1 and give Ernie Kent a .500 record at Washington State (23-23).

Five WSU newcomers are transfers: juniors Clifford, Charles Callison and Renard Suggs and sophomore Derrien King came to WSU from junior college, and Valentine Izundu arrived from Houston. Viont’e Daniels and Robert Franks are true freshmen. Daniels and Franks are from Federal Way and Vancouver, Wash., respectively.

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