Cougs look for six in a row against Huskies

LEAGUE PLAY BEGINS Saturday for Washington State and much has yet to be revealed about just how good the Cougs are this year. Of the college basketball heavyweights, WSU is one of only six unbeatens left. They're ranked No. 4 in the land. And for the last two years, the Cougs have swept back-to-back season series from the UW and are aiming for six straight over their cross-state rival on Saturday.

Yet questions, as they always do headed into conference play, remain.

How will the absence of Daven Harmeling (thumb) affect Washington State as they open Pac-10 play -- and will Harmeling actually be absent tonight? Can Aron Baynes stay out of foul trouble and if he is indeed whistled for a few quick ones -- and particularly on the road -- who will step up in his stead?

Answers to those questions and others will begin to be answered tonight as Washington State begins league play with a brutal stretch of three in a row, and five of their first seven games, on the road in the toughest conference in the nation.

Washington State enters the tilt against Washington with the No. 1 scoring defense in the land, surrendering 49.7 ppg. The Huskies are averaging 78.2 ppg.

Something, as they say, must give.

Harmeling, surprisingly, has been reported to be a game time decision against Washington only two weeks after fracturing his thumb. If the forward can play a few minutes Saturday, it could make a difference especially with Caleb Forrest's status for UW questionable with an injured ankle.

NOT THAT THE Cougs need any extra motivation to get up for the rivalry game but Idaho State's Austin Kilpatrick, in comparing the Cougs and Huskies, said the UW played tougher defense than did Washington State. The Cougs beat ISU 75-45, while Washington beat the Bengals by a score of 82-50.

The stats wouldn't seem to back up Kilpatrick's view as the Huskies rank No. 254 in scoring defense (73.7) but in their last five games, Washington has held opponents to 61.8 ppg and 44 percent shooting. Tony Bennett said earlier this week the UW has improved on defense and particularly in in the defensive backcourt.

But Washington State, while playing their brand of suffocating defense, has made some gains offensively this season. Gone are the days when the Cougs just couldn't score down the stretch. Washington State ranks eighth in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting at a .506 clip from the field.

It also hasn't necessarily felt like it in some games -- mostly the ones that were televised -- but the Cougars are again taking care of the ball this season. WSU ranks No. 6 in the nation in turnovers, at 11.0.

WASHINGTON STATE will be looking to continue one of their best starts ever with a win tonight in Seattle. Washington State's 12-0 start this season is the best since the 1991-92 team opened up at 12-0. The best start by a WSU squad ever was in 1914-15 with a 17-0 record to open the season.

If they are to do so, Washington State will have to slow down Washington's new three-guard offense, featuring Ryan Appleby, Tim Morris and Joel Smith. At the same time, Jon Brockman has been a force on the boards and is the Huskies' leading scorer. The Cougs are expected to play team defense against Brockman and keep Baynes out of foul trouble and the Huskies are expected to do the same when Baynes has the rock on the offensive end.

Still, there will be times when Baynes and Brockman go at it, and each occasion will be cherished by hoops purists.

Baynes is 6-10, 270 while Brockman is listed at 6-7, 255.

  • Derrick Low leads the Cougs at 13.1 ppg and has rediscovered his hot shooting hand the last few games.

  • Kyle Weaver, the Cougs' Mr. Everything, places in the top three in nearly every statistical team category. His 11.6 ppg is second behind Low and Weaver is also the team's leading free-throw shooter, at .849.

  • Robbie Cowgill, who has had some of his best games against the Huskies, is quietly having another outstanding season. The forward places in the team's top three in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocked shots. More telling than any stat has been his clutch play down the stretch when games are on the line, as evidenced this year by the Baylor and Gonzaga victories.

  • Nic Koprivica could see significant minutes off the bench tonight with Harmeling and Forrest both nursing injuries. So could big man Chris Henry. At guard, Bennett said the practice week, along with in-game situation and need, would determine if Thomas Abercrombie, Stephen Sauls and Jeremy Cross could also see additional playing time. The Spokesman-Review reported Abe Lodwick, who was expected to redshirt this season, may have also shown enough in practice to warrant some playing time tonight against Washington, though that would also depend on in-game situation and need.

  • The Huskies are led by Brockman's 18.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game this season. Appleby, after missing the team's first seven games due to a thumb injury, is averaging 13.0 points per game.

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