Cougs prep for Dawgs by emphasizing boards

PULLMAN -- Basketball practices at Washington State this week were guided by a pair of sobering numbers: 14 and 24. The first was the margin of difference in rebounding that the Huskies held in their 92-64 rout of the Cougs a month ago. The second was the Huskies' advantage in that contest in points scored in the paint.

WSU assistant coach Ben Johnson, who spends a lot of time with the Cougar big men, was emphatic this week that his players get on a body and box out -- something they didn't do well in that first game with the Huskies.

Fellow assistant Curtis Allen, a former Huskies standout, added to the chorus. "Box him out, that's Quincy Pondexter, get physical," he hollered during workouts.

The Cougars (16-11 overall and 6-9 in Pac-10 play) will have a chance to step up their rebounding and defense in the paint this Saturday at 7 p.m. (FSN TV) when they host Washington (18-9, 8-7) in the final home game of the season.

"They crash the boards well as a team, sometimes they even crash four guys," WSU big man DeAngelo Casto said of Washington. "Obviously it's been emphasized that we need to box out in all games, but with a team like UW who is so good at offensive boards it's going to be emphasized even more."

On Wednesday, the theme of practice (besides boxing out, that is) was hustle and tempo. The Cougs ran a ton of live drills, and if head man Ken Bone saw any of his players lagging behind, he would quickly stop play to ensure his team they must go at full speed the entire 40 minutes to take down UW.

"It was pretty intense to say the least," Casto said of the practice. "I thought people brought it for the most part and we had some great energy."

On top of their big men leading the way in the paint, the UW's guards are dangerous. Defensive specialist Venoy Overton and crafty Isaiah Thomas lead the way. Thomas dropped 19 on the Cougars in the first matchup, and Reggie Moore said he and sophomore guard Marcus Capers look forward to the defensive challenge.

"We just have to be solid the best we can and play ball the way we've been playing," Moore said. "Play how we played against Nic Wise, and how we played against Jerome Randle and they're probably the best two guards in this league so we'll see what happens."

Pondexter, who had 29 points in the first meeting with the Cougs, guaranteed a win over WSU this weekend -- though he later softened his comments, no doubt at the behest of Lorenzo Romar.

Casto said Pondexter's bravado didn't come as a surprise to him, but WSU will me much more prepared come tip-off.

"I would expect him to be confident, he's had a great year," Casto said. "They smacked us the first time, and they showed a side of us where we weren't competitive and exposed our weakness. I think we're a different team now that understands the game and play with a lot more heart."

Moore, when asked about Pondexter's boast, explained that he was taught from a young age to not counter smack talk, and that the Cougs will let their play do the talking for them.

"Like my grandpa told me you don't have to respond to anything like that, you just got to come out and play your game," Moore said. "Growing up I felt like when people talked they were insecure about something."

With only three games left in the regular season, Moore said there's urgency to knock off the Dawgs.

"... they're one of the best teams if not the best team in the Pac-10 so if we can beat them they we will have a lot of confidence going into the Oregon schools and heading into the Pac-10 tournament."

SATURDAY IS SENIOR NIGHT at WSU and the lone player being feted will be Nikola Koprivica, who needs one more victory to become the co-winningest player in Cougar history.

"There are definitely emotions but at the end I have to come out focused and be ready for a game," he told CF.C this week. "I want to come out and thank the crowd for a great four years but as soon as the ball tips off I'll be ready to come out and get a win."

The Serbian native's parents will be in the stands.

Koprivica said he will always bleed crimson and gray.

"... Once a Coug Always a Coug," he said with a smile. "I want them to think 'Crazy Serb' -- a guy who gave 100 percent every time he was on the court and just a good solid team player."

With 85 wins to his name, Koprivica ranks second for most wins by a Cougar player. One more ties him for first with late-1940s player George Hamilton. Three of Koprivica's former teammates rank just below him on the all-time wins list: Daven Harmeling with 81, and Aaron Baynes and Caleb Forrest with 80 each.

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