Matthews in spotlight as Cougs head to 'Zona

PULLMAN -- Cougar fans still haven't moved beyond Mighty Duck Maarty Leunen's flop during the final second of regulation play Saturday, leading to Oregon's eventual win in OT. But foul or not, the No. 18-ranked Cougs are set on reclaiming their season Thursday at No. 20 Arizona, with sophomore Chris Matthews likely to see significant action in the wake of Nikola Koprivica's season-ending injury.

"Players or college kids have a pretty short memory," WSU head coach Tony Bennett said of the stinging loss to Oregon that prompted the refs to run from the court at game's end. "For the coaches it hangs a little longer…But you forget about it and get excited to play again."

The 14-6 Wildcats will host a 17-4 Cougar team that has not lost consecutive games all season. The OT defeat to Oregon was WSU's first home-court setback all season.

After each of the Cougars' first two losses this season, they ripped off four-game win streaks. "We never get too high or low," said WSU forward Ivory Clark. "We have a chance to do something great this year and be special so we don't want to lose back to back games." In the last meeting between the ‘Cats and Cougs, on Jan. 6 at Friel Court, the court was overrun with crimson partisans following a 77-73 overtime victory that catapulted the Cougars into the national rankings for the first time since 1983. The win was fueled by Daven Harmeling's 28-point night.

Since then, the Cougars have won three of five games, with both losses coming in overtime. However, the Wildcats have won just two of their last six games, including an embarrassing loss over the weekend at home against No. 4 North Carolina. The Wildcats fell 92-64 to the Tar Heels, looking lackadaisical and uninterested. The Tar Heels' pressure defense allowed the Wildcats just one 3-pointer on 23 attempts and knocked about 20 points off their season average.

"We're playing a wounded animal," Bennett said. "After what happened with them at the North Carolina game, that's not the Arizona team that we're going to see. They'll come at us with a lot of pressure and energy to try and right their ship."

Despite the loss to UNC, Arizona dropped just three spots in the AP poll. The Wildcats still sport the Pac-10's best offense (82.4 points per game) and the second- leading scorer in Marcus Williams (17.4 per game). And despite a horrid night against UNC, Arizona is still the most clinical shooting team in the conference.

"They know how important this game is," Bennett said. "When you've lost a few in a row you really get your back against the wall. I don't know if you want to play an Arizona team like that but that's this league."

After Arizona, the Cougars will travel to Tempe to meet Pac-10 punching bag Arizona State on Saturday. After one trip through the conference, the Sun Devils sit 0-9. They don't score enough to stay afloat, ranking last in the conference in scoring offense. But then again, Oregon State, just one spot above the lowly Sun Devils, nearly stole a win in Pullman last Thursday. The Cougars trailed for long stretches and only grabbed momentum in the final moments.

KOPRIVICA TORE THE ACL in his right knee in the Cougars' loss to Oregon. While he plays guard, he stands 6-6 and can rebound, so his loss was crucial against Oregon when Cougar post men Ivory Clark and Aron Baynes got in foul trouble.

Koprivica, a true freshman from Serbia, will miss the remainder of the season.

His minutes –- an average of about 14 per game on the season, but 18 in recent games -– figure to be absorbed in large part by 6-4 sophomore Chris Matthews, who has seen action in 12 games this season. On Saturday, with Koprivica sidelined, Matthews came in and tied a career high with 13 points. The Washington, D.C., product shot 5 of 9 and hit two 3-pointers, one of which came in overtime. Matthews logged 26 minutes on the night.

"He's become more solid defensively and he's a real vocal kid," Bennett said of Matthews. "When his stroke is on he's a deep ball threat."

Matthews said he is ready to take center stage. "Now that (Koprivica) is gone I've got to step up because we really needed him and he's not here," Matthews said. "I've got to make sure I do what I'm supposed to do."

He said Koprivica was supportive on Saturday. "Nick is fun to be around and always excited. He was saying when you go out there, make sure you do your thing Chris. He was taking the smart approach instead of being sad."

NOTABLE:
Both Cougar games this week will be televised. Thursday's 5:30 pm PT match-up will be carried by FSN Northwest and FSN Arizona, while Saturday's 4:30 pm PT game will be aired on FOX Sports Net.

The Cougars are ranked nationally in several statistical categories. They're second in fewest turnovers; 19th in scoring defense; and tied for 21st in winning percentage. The Cougars lead the Pac-10 in scoring defense (58.9 points per game), turnover margin (plus 4.90 per game) and assist to turnover ratio (1.45).

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