Cougar hoops: A scare, cold water & more

PULLMAN -- Freshman guard Stephen Sauls threw a brief scare into the Cougars at practice Monday, while junior forward Daven Harmeling threw cold water on WSU's "pathetic" history at Pauley Pavilion. The real fireworks, though, won't begin until Thursday when the Cougs launch what could prove to be a highly crucial road swing through Los Angeles.

The Cougars haven't won a conference championship since 1940-41, and now, just one game into the Pac-10 portion of the schedule, they must tackle promising USC and No.5-ranked UCLA. On the road.

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The fourth-ranked Cougars (13-0, 1-0 Pac-10) face the Trojans (9-5, 0-2) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., then take on UCLA (14-1, 2-0) on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Both games will be televised on FSN.

UCLA and Washington State were consensus favorites to finish 1-2 in the Pac-10 -- as they did last season -- in preseason forecasts. The Bruins have won seven straight overall and six straight against WSU. The Cougars' only victory in 50 tries at UCLA took place in 2004.

"That's pathetic," Harmeling summed up after a spirited practice Monday.

The Cougars and Bruins are two of the premier defensive teams in the country. The Trojans' lack of experience has factored into inconsistent play at both ends of the floor.

USC guard O.J. Mayo and UCLA center Kevin Love are living up to the hype billing them as freshmen likely headed to the NBA next season. Mayo leads the Trojans and ranks second in the Pac-10 with 20.1 points per game, and he leads the league with 35.9 minutes played. Love leads the Bruins with 16.5 points (ninth) and 10.2 rebounds (third).

THE COUGARS RECEIVED a scare at practice when freshman reserve Stephen Sauls collapsed shortly after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from teammate Aron Baynes.

Trainer Bill Drake said Sauls lost consciousness. A student trainer briefly started CPR and had 911 called before Drake determined that Sauls was "going to be OK."

He was later diagnosed with a concussion and admitted to the hospital for observation and tests overnight.

IT MIGHT BE A EARLY to canonize Tony Bennett, but give the man his props: His record after the first 1 ½ seasons and 47 games of his college head coaching career is a flat-out-sensational 39-8 (.830).

Don't look now, but after his first 47 games, the legendary Adolph Rupp was -- you guessed it -- 39-8 at Kentucky. Furthermore, John Wooden was 35-12 at Indiana State, Dean Smith was 30-17 at North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewski was 28-19 at Army.

HOW IMPESSIVE IS WSU's 13-0 start? Well, the Cougars have been playing hoops since 1901-02, and only the 1914-15 and 1916-17 teams had better starts or longer winning streaks.

The 1916-17 Cougars started 15-0, dropped a 28-20 "thriller" at California, then won their other 10 games to finish 25-1 and claim the unofficial Helms Foundation national championship in the pre-NCAA days. The 1914-15 Cougars won their first 17 games, then lost their other six games.

How'd that happen? Well, early games that year included a 55-2 win over the mighty Almira Athletic Club and a 39-4 romp over Davenport High School. And you thought Bennett was cruel for scheduling Mississippi Valley State and North Carolina A&t.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* Tickets remain on sale for only three wsu home games, Thursday contests against Oregon State on Jan. 17, California on Jan. 31 and Arizona State on Feb. 21. The Cougars have already set a school record with seven sellouts (counting six upcoming games). Season tickets were cut off at 4,245 this season (excluding all-sports student passes), but the cutoff number will rise next season. Tickets may be ordered at www.wsucougars.com or (800) GO-COUGS.

* The NCAA compiles 16 team statistics during the season. Through Sunday, WSU ranked in the top 10 in seven categories and in the top 20 in two others. WSU was first in points allowed per game (49.8), tied for fourth in won-loss record (13-0), fifth in turnovers (10.9), sixth in personal fouls (14.3), eighth in field-goal shooting percentage defense (36.9), eighth in free-throw shooting percentage (77.3), 10th in field-goal shooting percentage (50.1), 14th in scoring margin (18.7) and 19th in assist/turnover ratio (1.27).

* By winning their first 13 games, the Cougars have matched the two highest win totals posted during 10 consecutive losing seasons that preceded last year's 26-8 campaign. Fittingly, USA Today is planning a feature article on WSU's rise from mediocrity.

* UCLA coach Ben Howland broke into coaching as a graduate assistant at Gonzaga in 1981-82. The Zags found Howland a job at a local horse track so he could afford to coach.

* The Cougars continue to take heat for their soft nonconference schedule. The Cougars did beat Baylor (currently 11-2), Boise State (11-3) and Gonzaga (11-4), but none of those teams earned a vote in this week's Top 25 polls. ... All three Cougars who were in subpar health Saturday at Washington -- Harmeling (fractured thumb), Taylor Rochestie (flu) and Caleb Forrest (sprained ankle) -- practiced full-time Monday.

* The Village Pub in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood will be featuring the Cougs' games against USC and UCLA on their numerous plasma and TV screens Thursday and Saturday.


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