It might have slipped notice that Washington and Washington State - a pair of men's basketball teams that have combined to keep the suspense in the term "suspension" - are competing in an actual basketball game tonight.
In fact, their 8:30 meeting in the Pacific-10 Conference tournament in Los Angeles will be more than just a welcome diversion from the stories of crimes and misdemeanors that have dominated their recent coverage.
Given the weighty motivational factors for both, this should be a terrifically intense competition. A win extends either side’s hopes of an NCAA tournament berth, while in subtext, it might be a positive step in repairing the public-image hits the teams have taken in the past week.
A quick line or two of context before moving on to more savory components of this game: Washington’s Venoy Overton will not participate in the tournament because he has been suspended after facing charges of supplying alcohol to underage females during an outing that carried more unseemly allegations. Washington State’s Klay Thompson will be returning to action, meanwhile, after being suspended for the regular-season finale Saturday against UCLA after an arrest for marijuana possession.
It makes this a good time to offer kudos to that large majority of players on these teams who did not get arrested or charged in recent weeks.
So, here’s to the Huskies and Cougars who recognized the importance of keeping their noses clean for the sake of their teammates and the reputation of the school and basketball programs – if not for their own self-respect.
They have used good judgment and been responsible, but they’ve had to carry an extra burden on the floor because of teammates’ legal issues, and also been at least indirectly affected by negative publicity that was not their fault.
Congratulations, gentlemen. As a reward, you get to play basketball tonight.
Both teams also face injury issues, with Huskies forward Justin Holiday trying to come back from a concussion, and Cougars guard Reggie Moore slowed by a foot injury.
Months ago, the Huskies were expected to be conference favorites, but the season got off to a dismal start when guard Abdul Gaddy was lost to injury, and Overton’s case was a percolating distraction since January.
But another primary contributor to the Huskies’ falling short of expectations this season was the efforts of the Cougars. WSU brought out the worst in the Huskies (at least on the court), forcing them into cold shooting nights and butterfingered ball-handling while sweeping the regular-season series.
The Cougars were the only conference team that the Huskies didn’t defeat at least once this season. Yet the Huskies were one of only two teams (Oregon State being the other) that the Cougars were able to sweep.
WSU did it with nice schemes, higher intensity and timely free-throw shooting. They controlled the two games with their aggressive play.
Tonight? Intensity should not be an issue for either team.
The Huskies rely heavily on top defenders Overton and Holiday – leaving that aspect a vulnerability. But this one mostly will be about junior guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was the tournament Most Outstanding Player last season while leading the Huskies to the championship.
In the last five conference games, his scoring average is down about three points a game, and his 3-point shooting dipped to an icy 21 percent. Through much of the season, he improved as a total guard, elevating his assists and not forcing shots.
But tonight, the Huskies need him to be a scorer, to take over the game the best he can against the challenging Cougars defense. Forget the assists, get to the rim and then make free throws.
Thompson is equally important for the Cougars. He scored 25 and 26 in the wins over UW. Such a performance should get the job done again.
While Thomas may need to force the issue, Thompson may need to guard against doing the same. We may wonder if he’ll be over-amped and over-eager to make amends for his absence in the overtime loss to UCLA.
Whichever team pulls this one out, it will be worthy of celebration. We hope that both teams have learned that it should be done responsibly.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org