Over the past six seasons, the Apple Cup of basketball has presented a test of wills.
Washington has wanted to speed things up; Washington State has wanted to slow things down.
This season, the Cougs seem eager and able to run with the Huskies.
And that sounds fine to these Dawgs.
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“I love these up-and-down games,” UW guard Isaiah Thomas said. “Especially from the way they played last year: I hated playing Washington State. It would be a low-scoring game; you can’t get out and run. This year, they’re a little more up and down. It’s going to be a good game.”
The different outlook for this afternoon’s match at Hec Edmundson Pavilion comes from a difference in coaching. Former UW assistant Ken Bone has taken over at WSU and installed a system far faster paced than existed for three seasons under Dick Bennett and three more under his son, Tony.
“His preference is to play up-tempo,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said of his former assistant. “His players play with a lot of freedom. If they’re able, they will score a lot of points.”
When Bone moved from Portland State to the Palouse, he expected that he would have to ease his inherited players from the slower pace they were recruited for into the faster pace that he hoped to install.
However, these Cougars have proven versatile enough to adapt quickly. Their current scoring average of 76.7 points per game is 17.5 points above their average of last season. For that matter, it’s just four points behind Washington, the Pacific-10 Conference’s scoring leader.
Romar said that is a tribute to the core of this Cougars roster.
“When you look at their team: Klay Thompson can play in any system,” Romar said. “DeAngelo Casto can play in any system. Reggie Moore – who was brought in by Coach Bone and his staff – can play in any system. So, those are their three leading scorers. And if you look at their team statistically, other than (Nikola) Koprivica, the others don’t take as many shots. Now, they could go right back if Coach Bennett was coaching again. Those are pretty versatile players.”
Those players have surprised Bone in another way.
Before the season, he was cautious about how his team might perform in the absence of its top two players from last season: guard Taylor Rochestie and center Aron Baynes.
The Cougars answered by winning 10 of their first 12 games. But even then Bone warned against reading too much into the results of a light preconference schedule.
However, the Cougars have split their first eight conference games. That puts them in a tie for third place – and they could have been tied for second if not for a still-controversial call that cost them a home game against Oregon.
Now even Bone admits his pleasant surprise.
“We’re a little bit more competitive than I thought we would be,” he said this week. “... It has impressed me that our team has been able to go on the road and win at Arizona and at USC last weekend. I think if they’re able to do that, then we’re capable of beating anybody in this conference.”
Washington State is even one game ahead of its in-state rival.
Washington has wobbled to 13-7 overall and 3-5 in the Pac-10. And the Huskies say they understand that there may be no more margin for error – especially at home – if they hope to survive into the postseason.
“Right now it’s 9-1-1 (at Hec Ed), and we have to turn it on,” senior Quincy Pondexter said. “With the season getting closer to February, it’s time when teams need to start clicking to get in the NCAA tournament.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
UW MEN'S BASKETBALL GAMEDAY
WASHington STATE (14-6 overall, 4-4 PAC-10) AT WASHINGTON (13-7, 3-5)
Tiipoff: 12:30 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM, 850-AM.
Series: UW leads, 169-98, and swept both games last season.
Statistical leaders: For WSU – G Klay Thompson, 22.3 ppg; F DeAngelo Casto, 7.4 rpg; G Reggie Moore, 4.6 apg. For UW – F Quincy Pondexter, 19.9 ppg and 8 rpg; G Venoy Overton, 3.5 apg.
Scouting report: Isaiah Thomas, UW’s No. 2 scorer, will return to the starting lineup today after missing Tuesday’s game against Seattle U. due to illness. Junior guard Venoy Overton, who started in Thomas’ place, will return to a reserve role. … UW leads the conference in scoring (80.8) and rebounding (38.5). WSU leads the league in 3-point field goal percentage, is second in field goal percentage, and is third in points, rebounds and blocks. … First-year WSU coach Ken Bone, a former UW assistant, went 0-3 against the Huskies at Portland State. … Thompson is tied for the Pac-10 lead in scoring. Pondexter is third in scoring and rebounding. … Moore, a freshman from Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, has scored 20 or more points in four of his last six games and is averaging 18 points over his last seven games. WSU’s Nikola Koprivica leads the Pac-10 in 3-point percentage, hitting 27 of 54 attempts. Casto leads the league with 2.1 blocked shots per game.
Next for WSU: 7 p.m. Thursday, vs. Arizona State, Beasley Coliseum.
Next for UW: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, vs. Arizona, Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune