The Huskies aim to keep pace with Arizona at the head of the conference table, while the Cougars seek to slow the Romarville Express and win in Seattle for the first time since Kelvin Sampson was at the WSU helm.
WASHINGTON STATE (3-3, 8-7) at #10 WASHINGTON (5-1, 15-2)
Bank of America Arena - Sunday, January 23, 1:00 PM (Fox Sports Net)
Last Season: Washington swept 75-62 (Pullman) and 71-67 (Seattle)
Overall Series: Washington leads 165-91
The scoreboard and mascots may say "Huskies" and "Cougars", but the teams on the floor suggest that another classic rivalry tale will be re-enacted on the Bank of America Arena stage for an expected audience of 10,000 patrons-de-hoop.
The Tortoise versus the Hare.
It's no secret that Washington wants to play it fast, and Washington State … well, doesn't. Their vast differences in court philosophy are revealed in a bevy of NCAA categories (out of 326 rated teams):
Scoring Offense: UW 89.4 points (2nd), WSU 54.0 (324th)
Scoring Defense: UW 72.0 (249th), WSU 53.9 (2nd)
FG Percentage: UW 50.6% (13th), WSU 38.4% (311th)
FG Percentage Defense: UW 44.8 (226th), WSU 38.7 (18th)
Assists per game: UW 20.0 (3rd), WSU 12.0 (269th)
The numbers are even more astounding for the Huskies at home, where they've won by an average 91-64 this season.
"Washington is incredibly quick," says Cougar coach Dick Bennett on UW's penchant for quick scoring bursts. "I don't know if I've ever seen the combination of quickness and speed with the kind of offensive ability and all-around basketball ability they possess."
Bennett, who considers last year's 75-62 loss to the Huskies in Pullman as the game his players were last resistant to the crawlish style he brought to the Palouse, is in the second year of a rebuilding program that has seen him go 21-23 since being lured out of retirement in Wisconsin. Bennett is 25 wins short of 500 spanning a 27-year career, and his Cougar roster is unique in that they have four seniors and eight freshmen, with a lone junior (Rainier Beach forward Randy Green) and no sophomores.
Senior SG Thomas Kelati has been the Cougars' most consistent scorer. Averaging 12 points per game, Kelati recorded a season-best 18 versus UCLA (while playing all 50 minutes in the double-overtime loss) and has been in double figures 11 times. Swingman Jeff Varem got off to a slow start this season, but has averaged 15.7 points and 9.7 boards over his last six games. The senior from Benue, Nigeria has four double-doubles and tallied a career-best 21 points at USC.
Former starter Chris Schlatter (4.3 ppg) now provides his muscle as a sixth-man. Shami Gill has missed WSU's last five games with a back injury, and is at best questionable here.
Combined, the eight Cougar freshmen account for 40 percent of Washington State's scoring, with three of them now starting regularly. It's been a baptism under-fire for Hawaiian native Derrick Low (5.7 ppg), who has hit only 24-percent from three-point range. Six-foot-ten post Robbie Cowgill (5.6 ppg) ranks fourth in the PAC-10 in shot blocks, and Wisconsin transplant Kyle Weaver has tallied double figures in three out of his last four games. Reserve guard Josh Akognon has a better percentage from behind the arc (.348) than the free throw line (.333).
Washington State, who has lost 47 straight to ranked opponents, must exert some glass control to have the best chance of slowing the game to their pace - they are 6-0 when out-rebounding their opponent, and 2-7 otherwise. However, the Huskies – winners of 17 straight at Bank of America Arena - lead the PAC-10 in rebounding margin.
So the Cougars will truly have its work cut out when the curtain raises on Sunday.
Then again - as Lorenzo Romar may need to remind his Hares - so did the Tortoise.
PROBABLE WASHINGTON STATE STARTERS
F Jeff Varem 6-6 SR 10.5 ppg 8.3 rpg
F Robbie Cowgill 6-10 FR 5.6 3.3
G Kyle Weaver 6-5 FR 6.0 3.5
G Thomas Kelati 6-5 SR 12.1 3.9 (2.9 APG)
G Derrick Low 6-1 FR 5.7 0.9
Rick Samek can be reached at Rsamek1@comcast.net
HUSKIES LOOK TO FINISH NORTHWEST SWEEP
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