USA Today Sports/Buchanan

Energy of fans in stands can be big assist to surging Cougars vs. loaded Ducks

ONE OF THE best basketball teams in the nation is coming to Pullman on Saturday to play the surging Washington State Cougars. That means two things.

First, that the Cougars will need to elevate their collective game because No. 15 Oregon is top-to-bottom solid

And second, that WSU fans need to elevate their game, too, because these Cougars derive great energy from their fans and that “12th man” effect can go far in helping pull off the upset. 

In WSU's recent wins over Washington in Seattle and Oregon State in Spokane, the number of Cougar partisans in the stands was small but vocal. You could see the boost that fan enthusiasm gave the team. Imagine the possibilities with a sizable and loud crowd at Friel on Saturday.

Indeed, every Coug fan between Couer d’Alene and Pasco ought to descend on Pullman for the 4 p.m. battle between the 9-5/2-0 Cougars and 14-2/3-0 Ducks.

Perhaps more than anything, WSU students need to get back to campus from Christmas break to bring the court-side heat they can be so adept at bringing.

Remember WSU's upset of No. 18 Gonzaga in December of 2006? There were more than 10,000 fans — most of them students — in the Beasley stands that night. As Tony Bennett later attested, it made a huge difference on the court. Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver & Co. fed off that energy.

Remember, this was the same season the Cougs were predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the conference and wound up ranked No. 12 in the nation with a 26-8 record.

That victory over Gonzaga was a launching pad for those Cougs and the electricity in the air from fans was critical.

The current Cougs need the same kind of boost Saturday from fans. The game will be their third in seven days, which means a little extra octane in the tank from charged-up fans could do wonders for the legs late in the second half.

To help attendance, WSU has themed the game around “Space Jam Day.” CougSquad tank tops will be given to the first 300 students in the arena and special edition Space Jam posters will be given to all.  On the ticketing front, a special “Dad's Day Out” pricing plan is in place: $15 buys one adult ticket, one youth ticket, a youth Cougar baseball cap and a rose. Additional youth tickets are $5 each.

For tickets or more information, CLICK HERE or call 1-800-Go-Cougs.

AS FOR THE DUCKS, THEY WON their 12th-straight game on Wednesday, defeating Washington in Seattle 83-61 behind a barrage of 14 three-pointers. Even with Jordan Bell (10.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg) back in the locker room with an injury and a number of other regulars in foul trouble, the Ducks cruised with a 21-9 run to close out the game.

Last week, the Ducks beat UCLA and USC — both undefeated at the time — by 89-87 and 84-61 scores, respectively. Oregon's two losses this season came early in the campaign, to Baylor and Georgetown.

The Ducks bring a balanced scoring attack to the Palouse. Five players are averaging double figures, with Dillon Brooks leading the way at 14.3. They’re also high flyers, averaging a Pac-12 leading 7.5 blocked shots per game, with 6-10 senior Chris Boucher accounting for 41 all by himself. Last season he became the only player in Pac-12 history with 100 blocks and 35 three-pointers in the same campaign.

Oregon averages 79.6 points per game (sixth in the Pac-12) to WSU’s 72.9 (ninth). The Ducks surrender an average of 64.4 points per game (third-best in the conference) to WSU’s 72.6 (ninth).

IN PRAISE OF MALACHI FLYNN: Following the true freshman's burst of scoring down the stretch against Oregon State on Wednesday, Pac-12 Networks color analyst Mary Murphy declared that it was time Flynn's name start being tossed around for Pac-12 freshman of the year honors. 

Flynn (pictured above) is averaging 11.8 points, 3.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 33.1 minutes per game this season. His work in the Cougars' two Pac-12 games has been spectacular: 29 combined points on 11 of 20 shooting from the field, 8 assists and no turnovers. In both games, the Cougar point guard was at his best in the final minutes.

NOTABLE NOTE: At 78.2, the Cougars are No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 7 in the nation in free throw percentage. Conor Clifford leads the parade, having hit 25 of 28 for 89.3 percent.


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