Hoops: Do or die w/ two regular-season games left

<b>PULLMAN -- 'Tis the season for scoreboard watching. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Washington State men's basketball team has a pair of games left to accomplish two goals: first, to play their way into the Pac-10 tournament, and second, to establish some kind of momentum for said tournament, which could begin with an opening-round game against either Arizona or Washington. That is, of course, if WSU survives this week.

As one of four teams still alive for the final two spots, the Cougars travel to Stanford on Thursday and California on Saturday.

"If we win then we're in. That's how we're looking at it; that's all we need to know" said WSU senior guard Thomas Kelati. "We don't want to rely on other teams."

Head coach Dick Bennett, on the other hand, admits he's looking at what the other teams do.

"Oh, I know what has to happen (for WSU to get in)," Bennett said after Monday's practice. "We have a couple of huge games for sure, and we have to be successful in at least one of them."

After splitting with Arizona and Arizona State over the weekend, the Cougars are 11-14 overall, 6-10 in the Pac-10. They have sole possession of 7th place in the conference, with Oregon and Cal one game behind and USC two games behind. The Pac-10 tournament begins on March 10 in Los Angeles.

"It's going to be tough because we all have something to play for," Bennett said. "Stanford has a chance to make the NCAAs with a good showing, and Cal is in the same boat we are."

Saturday was WSU's final home game of the year, which meant it was Senior Day for the team's five departing seniors: Kelati, Shami Gill, Chris Schlatter, Isaiah Simmons and Jeff Varem. WSU beat Arizona State, 57-55, on a three-pointer by Schlateer with 9 seconds left.

"It was huge," Kelati said. "Not only because it was Senior Day, but just the way we did it. We've been losing those kinds of games -- the close games – all year. I think the win did a lot for the team's confidence."

In the locker room before Thursday's game against Arizona, Kelati was told by freshman Daven Harmeling that he needed 13 points to hit 1,000 for his career. Then, when he stepped onto the court, Kelati was greeted by a bright green sign in the front row of the Cougars' student section counting down his point total.

Kelati said he didn't pay attention to the sign and wasn't counting in his head. He wasn't aware that he'd hit 1,000 until the game was stopped for a few seconds after his second-half three-pointer and the PA announcer alerted the crowd.

Kelati finished the game with 16 points, but the Cougars lost in overtime, 57-56.

"Even though we lost, it was something positive to look back on," Kelati said.

After scoring 15 against ASU, Kelati now has 1,018 career points. The Walla Walla native is three points behind Peter Mullins (1951-53) for 24th place on the school's all-time scoring list. The most recent Cougars to hit the magic number were Marcus Moore(2001-04) who finished with 1,458 points, and Mike Bush (1999-2002), who finished with 1,061.

Simmons and freshman center Chris Henry's seasons are over due to injury.

After missing seven games with academic problems, Simmons, a senior forward, was reinstated and played in WSU's two games against the Oregon schools three weeks ago. But on Feb. 18, one day before WSU hosted Washington, Simmons cracked heads with Harmeling during practice, suffering a skull fracture that will end his college career. In 12 games this season, Simmons averaged 1.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per outing.

Henry had to have an emergency appendectomy just before the Arizona series and is done for the year as well. He also missed time this year with an ankle injury. In 14 games, Henry averaged 1.5 points in 7.5 minutes a game.

In Monday's practice, Schlatter hyper-extended his left elbow. His playing status is undetermined at the moment.

The last time WSU saw Cal and Stanford was in the opening weekend of conference play. Playing its "home" games in Spokane, the Cougars beat Stanford by nine and lost to the Golden Bears by 12.

Since then the Cardinal (16-10, 10-6) have earned the third-place spot in the conference and the Bears (12-14, 5-11) have fallen into the basement.

"Stanford has just gotten by on grittiness and tradition, which is a credit to them," Bennett said.

"I thought Cal was gonna have a great year after they dominated us," he added. "I don't know what's happened to them."

Concerning the Cougars, Bennett said they are pretty much the same team they were around the holidays, with one major-yet-overlooked subtraction.

"We'd be much better if we had Shami Gill; that's the only thing I'm sure of," Bennett said of the senior forward, who suffered a career-ending back injury earlier in the season. "People hardly realize his impact. He takes the other team's toughest big guy (on defense), he gets people open and he's our only real offensive rebounder."

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