Poll gazing, with Gonzaga looming large

WASHINGTON STATE REMAINED ranked No. 6 in the new ESPN/USA Today top 25 basketball poll, the same as last week. But Wazzu is now ranked ahead of UCLA -- has that ever happened before? The AP poll, however, didn't agree. Meanwhile, the undefeated Cougars sit at 7-0, with the highly anticipated clash with Gonzaga a little over 48 hours away.

The just released AP Poll dropped the Cougs two slots from last week down to No. 8, behind both Texas and UCLA. The No. 6 ranking signifies the highest ranking in program history.

Gonzaga on Wednesday is expected to provide the sternest test of the young season, though it will have to go a long ways in order to match the drama of win No. 7, a second half, 14-point comeback against Baylor.

Nobody quite knows how good Baylor is yet. They looked for all the world like a Top 25 team in the first half against the Cougars, with an active, athletic defense and some long range shooters who heated up like a microwave. But they're also not scheduled to play another Top 25 team until the end of January, and it may be hard to accurately quantify them for a while yet.

Gonzaga is not nearly as difficult to gauge. The Bulldogs are good.

The 'Zags, (No. 17 in AP, No. 19 Coaches'), are very athletic -- one hoops insider who has seen both teams play tells Cougfan.com Gonzaga is far more athletic than WSU -- and they're racking up wins without their marquee player.

Josh Heytveldt, a 6-11 junior, is out with a broken foot but is expected back later this month. The Gonzaga guards, Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin in particular, have more than picked up the slack by heating up from the outside. The perimeter defense of Kyle Weaver, Taylor Rochestie and Derrick Low is expected to be one of the keys to the game.

But another key for Washington State will be found on the inside.

Austin Daye, the son of former UCLA standout Darren Daye, has been setting the world on fire as a true freshman this year in Spokane. It's not too much of a stretch to say the 6-10 forward plays like a point guard at times, and he led the 'Zags in scoring until an 0-for-3, 10 minute misstep at UConn over the weekend.

Aron Baynes has been impressive this year on both ends of the court, but the Cougar big man found himself in foul trouble against Baylor, scoring 10 points but playing only 13 minutes before fouling out. Robbie Cowgill, who poured in 18 against the Bears, will also be called upon to help limit the inside game of Gonzaga.

Last December, Washington State's thrilling 77-67 win over No. 18 Gonzaga catapulted the Cougs into the spotlight and more importantly, the game marked the point where Wazzu began to consistently fire on all cylinders.

This year's edition promises to be one titanic basketball game felt 'round the Evergreen State.

Most newer fans would probably guess Gonzaga leads the all-time series with Washington State, such was the divergent paths of the teams from 1995-2005. In truth, Gonzaga was nowhere close to their current level of play for most of their history. Washington State leads the series 96-45.

  • The chances Fabian Boeke will play for the Cougs this year took a hit when Iowa State freshman Lucca Staiger was declared ineligible for the 2007-08 season. Boeke and Staiger participated on what the NCAA considers a German professional team. Members of the Ehingen Club team that Boeke played on, not including Boeke, received stipends that the NCAA determined were above actual and necessary expenses. Boeke, the tallest member on the Cougars at 6-11, was expected to play a significant role for the Cougars this season.

  • WSU-Gonzaga is scheduled for an 8 p.m. tip in Spokane on Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU, and is also available on the Cougar Radio Network, Click here for listings.

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