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Cougar Basketball Notebook

WE INTERRUPT football recruiting and bowl coverage for a special word – actually, several special words – about basketball. Foremost is that Washington State and Washington open Pac-12 play against each other on Jan. 1 in Seattle, making these next couple of weeks crucial to the momentum the two teams (both searching for their sea legs) bring into the opener.

The Cougars are currently 5-5 with two non-conference games (Santa Clara and Sacramento State) remaining before they play the Huskies. The Dawgs are 4-5 with non-cons left against Western Michigan, Cal Poly and Seattle U.

The guess here is that two 7-5 clubs will be facing off at HecEd come the first day of 2017, and the game could go far in determining whether the season for either concludes with a “they made progress” label or a “where do we go from here” question-mark.

For both the Cougars and Huskies, 2016-17 so far has been uneven, at best. At the moment, though, I think WSU is trending better than the UW.

What? After losses to Loyola-Chicago, San Jose State and New Orleans and most recently, a 14-point loss Saturday to Kansas State, I see the Cougs trending better right now?

I do.

Part of it is due to the Huskies. They've dropped their last four games and in the last two, they've been blown out by Gonzaga on the road and lost at the buzzer at home to Nevada.

But here’s why I see positives on the crimson and gray side of the ledger: The Cougs played one half of very good defense, on the road, against a stout K-State team. And that came immediately after a complete game of notable defense three days earlier in a 61-48 win over Idaho.

Just as importantly, K-State had difficulty with the Cougars in transition, as WSU’s 9-0 run to start the game attests. That’s a great sign for the Cougs, that they could be about to start dictating the pace.

And lastly, the Cougars were shorthanded and lost their legs a bit in the second half at K-State. Viont'e Daniels (pictured above) was out with concussion symptoms, Jeff Pollard out with mono and Derrien King was out because he’s transferring. There was a six-minute window in the second half when the Cougs should have had “Missed Jumper U” written on their jerseys. That’s always a telltale for running out of juice.

My takeaway is that the K-State game could end up being a big step for the Cougs.  The makings are there, but getting them to appear on a consistent basis each game is always the hardest part.

As for those guys sitting on the sidelines in that one, Daniels may be back this weekend and Pollard probably around the Husky game.

In regard to King transferring, there has been hand wringing among the faithful on the CF.C message boards about it. WSU’s press release was standard we-wish-him-the-best, and our efforts to reach King for comment have been fruitless so far. But step back for a moment and ask yourself logically why a player at a Power 5 school who is averaging nearly 25 minutes per game would decide to transfer at mid season.  I have absolutely zero insight on the King situation, but I do know King's body language and engagement on the court this season wasn’t always great – a true downer on a team with so many rookies -- so I toss up for discussion that there's more to this than a simple decision to transfer.

As for King’s 25 minutes of playing time per game, look for the 6-foot-2 Daniels (currently averaging 15.3 minutes and 3.7 points) and 6-4 JC transfer K.J. Langston (11 minutes and 2.3 points) to be the biggest beneficiaries.

Daniels, a former state player of the year in Washington with scoring chops, is shooting 47 percent from the field (8 of 17) this season vs. King’s 28 percent (17 of 60) so this could be a boost for the offense. Langston has hit only 5 of 20 field goals (25 percent) so far, but he has the ability to score in bunches and may find a groove with more PT. @

NOTABLE:

  • Daniels, a sophomore from Federal Way, of course isn’t the only former state player of the year from Washington on the Cougar roster. True freshman Malachi Flynn, out of Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, looks to be progressing almost on a daily basis in his role as starting point guard. He’s averaging 32.2 minutes, 11.6 points and 2.8 assists per game, while hitting 51.4 percent of his shots from the field (and 44 percent from downtown). His 27 points in a win over Utah Valley on Nov. 30 put him in rare historic company for most points in a single-game by a WSU freshman. He joins Isaac Fontaine, Klay Thompson, Steve Puidokas and Bennie Seltzer in the all-time top six.
  • And speaking of Puidokas, a legend from the 1970s, Josh Hawkinson is 189 rebounds away from supplanting Puidokas as the top glass cleaner in WSU history. Hawk is also 197 rebounds away from becoming just the 13th player in Pac-12 history to grab 1,000 career rebounds. If he maintains his current 11.4 rebounds per game average, he’ll eclipse both this season with room to spare.
  • With three Cougars redshirting this season (Milan Acquaah, Arinze Chidom and Jamar Ergas), Kent turned to walk-on junior guard Steve Shpreyregin to log some minutes for the short-handed Cougars at Kansas State. Shpreyregin logged 10 minutes and 3 points against the Wildcats.

NEXT UP: The Cougars host Santa Clara this Saturday at 1 pm, followed by Sacramento State at 6 pm on Dec. 21. Both games will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.


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