The road from the Palouse to the Big Apple has been a long and perilous one for the Washington State basketball team, but the Cougars are one of the few college men's teams that have yet to pack up and go home for the year.
In a season rife with inconsistency on the court and marijuana issues off the court, coach Ken Bone took time Monday from preparing for tonight’s National Invitation Tournament semifinal with Wichita State (4 p.m., ESPN2) to pay tribute to the player he labels “probably as valuable as anyone else on our team.”
All-America candidate Klay Thompson? Nah.
Leading rebounder DeAngelo Casto? Nope.
Defensive whiz Marcus Capers? Nada.
Flashy point guard Reggie Moore? Nyet.
The target of Bone’s praise was Abe Lodwick. A quasi-power forward at 6-foot-7 and 208 pounds, Lodwick – a converted guard – starts despite averaging just 3.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Coaches and teammates say Lodwick’s true worth doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.
“The intangibles that he brings that a lot of guys aren’t capable of bringing – the toughness, the energy, the positive attitude,” Bone said. “Every day. Every game. Every practice. Every drill.
“He’s a no-maintenance guy. Not even low; it’s just no maintenance. He does the right things, on and off the court.”
One notable exception occurred last Wednesday. With WSU’s season hanging in the balance, Lodwick – a redshirt junior who has made just 28 trips to the free-throw line in college – missed a pair of freebies with two-tenths of a second left in regulation of a tie game with Northwestern.
Lodwick exhaled only after the Cougars pulled out an overtime win to earn the trip to New York and fabled Madison Square Garden.
“There was nobody in that gym that was happier that we won than I was,” Lodwick said from New York. “I probably would have had to transfer if we would have ended up losing that game.”
Lodwick was joking, but there are plenty of schools that would welcome Lodwick not just as an athlete, but as a student. An aspiring lawyer, Lodwick is working toward degrees in communications and political science. On Monday, he made the Pac-10 All-Academic team for the second straight year.
Right now, the primary subject Lodwick is studying is Wichita State. The Shockers are 27-8 and loaded with size, depth and rebounders – three areas where Washington State (22-12) is lacking.
“They’re well-coached,“ Bone said. “They’re strong. They play right.
“I mean, it’s not just a bunch of kids that are athletic that run around and make plays on their own. It’s structured. It’s organized at both ends of the court.”
Wichita State, located in Wichita, Kan., plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers routinely give nine or 10 players significant minutes. The Cougars basically go with a seven-man rotation.
Three Cougars average 12.1 or more points, led by junior guard Klay Thompson at 22.0. The only Shocker in double figures is 6-foot-8, 236-pound senior center-forward J.T. Durley at 11.4.
“I love our chances (to win the NIT),” Lodwick said. “We’re here with a mission.”
The NIT has been held annually since 1938, one year before Oregon won the inaugural NCAA tournament. “The dream is to get to the NCAA tournament,” Bone said, “but getting to the NIT is something very special, and we’re excited about it.” ... All four semifinalists, including Alabama (24-11) and Colorado (24-13), took to the Madison Square Garden court for the first time Monday for shootarounds. “It is a special place,“ Bone said. “Anyone who’s a basketball fan knows that.” ... Wichita State is favored by three points over the senior-less Cougars. ... Both WSU’s – Washington State and Wichita State -- are making their first trips to the NIT Final Four. ... An NIT championship nets Bone a $50,000 bonus. ... Lodwick had dinner Sunday night with his sister who lives in Manhattan and writes for Forbes magazine. “I like visiting it (New York City),” said Lodwick, a native of Bend, Ore. “I couldn’t live here, though ... there’s people on top of people.”
WASHINGTON STATE (22-12) VS. WICHITA STATE (27-8)
When: Today, 4 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 850-AM, 1300-AM.
Series: Wichita State leads, 1-0. The Shockers won, 83-64, in 1960 in Wichita, Kan.
Statistical leaders: For Washington State - Klay Thompson, 22.0 ppg; DeAngelo Casto, 6.8 rpg; Thompson, 3.8 apg. For Wichita State - J.T. Durley, 11.4 ppg; Gabe Blair, 6.4 rpg; Toure` Murry, 3.4 apg.
Scouting report: The Shockers, who have the edge over Washington State in size and depth, rank seventh in the nation with an average rebounding advantage of 7.9 per game. Washington State ranks 222nd out of 336 NCAA Division I teams at minus-1.3. ... Wichita State averages 72.8 points for and 62.3 points against. Washington State averages 73.7 points for and 67.2 against. ... The Shockers have a better field-goal shooting percentage (46.7-45.9), but the Cougars own a slightly better mark from 3-point range (35.7-35.6). ... Washington State ranks 18th nationally in field-goal percentage defense at 39.6. Wichita State is 67th at 41.2. ... Thompson ranks ninth in the nation in scoring. ... Thompson has set a school record for field-goal attempts (541) for the second year. Thats 168 more than any teammate, but Thompson also has 33 more assists than any other Cougar. ... Thompson ranks first in WSU history in single-season points (727) and 3-pointers (98), second in 3-point attempts (231), third in field goals made (239), tied for seventh in free throws made (150) and tied for 10th in steals (55).
Next: 4 p.m. Thursday, the winner plays tonight’s winner between Colorado (24-13) and Alabama (24-11) at Madison Square Garden in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament.
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer