Washington State’s seniors have helped rebuild a program that had become a doormat in the Pac-10 before their arrival. Now entering their final game at Beasley Coliseum, they’ll try to punctuate the revival by continuing their success over their archrival.
The 23rd-ranked Cougars look to head into the postseason on a high note as they host Washington on Saturday in search of their record-breaking seventh straight win in the series.
Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill highlighted coach Dick Bennett’s first recruiting class at Washington State in 2004. None was particularly heralded coming out of high school, but together, they’ve helped put an end to Washington State’s days as a Pac-10 afterthought.
“People identify with them because they aren’t these superstar athletes who come in and dominate,” said coach Tony Bennett, who took over the team from his father before last season. “They fight and scrap for everything.”
Superstars or not, Weaver, Low and Cowgill have helped the Cougars (22-7, 10-7) record back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since they did it in four straight seasons 1938-42. Before those players joined the team, it had been a decade since Washington State finished with a winning Pac-10 record.
“They were not the most gifted, talented players,” said Bennett, who’s on the verge of taking Washington State to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Low and Weaver are the team’s top scorers, averaging 13.8 and 11.3 points, respectively, while Cowgill adds 7.1 per game.
That trio has helped the Cougars win six straight against Washington (16-14, 7-10), matching their six-game run spanning two seasons from 1941-42. A victory on Saturday would give Washington State its longest win streak in the history of the series, which dates to 1910.
That doesn’t sit well with the Huskies, who had won 14 of the previous 18 meetings with Washington State before their current skid.
“A lot of us just think about it,” said forward Jon Brockman, a Snohomish, Wash., native who has never beaten the Cougars during his three-year tenure with the Huskies. “Probably more so those of us here that grew up in the state. It’s something you just grow up learning and hearing about that rivalry.
“Losing six in a row is definitely not what you envision. It just means this game means a little bit more to us than just a normal Pac-10 game.”
The Huskies have gained some confidence by winning four of seven conference games after opening Pac-10 play 3-7. Their improved play of late has included a win over then-No. 5 UCLA and a three-point loss at eighth-ranked Stanford last Thursday.
“It’s almost the end of the season. I wish we could have figured that out (earlier),” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, whose team shot 53.2 percent from the field in last Saturday’s 87-84 road win over California. “But we’re capable of playing pretty good basketball.”
So are the Cougars, who give up only 55.4 points per game to rank third in the nation. But Washington State couldn’t stop 7-footer Brook Lopez in the Cougars’ 60-53 loss at Stanford last Saturday.
Lopez had 25 points and six rebounds against Washington State, which bodes well for the physical Brockman, who leads the conference in rebounding with 11.6 per game and ranks in the top five in scoring with 17.6 points per contest.
Brockman had 14 points and 17 boards in the Huskies’ 56-52 loss to the then-No. 4 Cougars on Jan. 5, but is averaging just 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in six career games against them.
- McCollum scores 34 as Lehigh rips Bryant 72-55
- No. 17 Duke: Allen, Jefferson game-time decisions vs. FSU
- No. 7 Louisville rebounds with 88-68 win over Syracuse
- Nick Ward-led Michigan State beats No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74
- No. 22 Butler pulls away late to 88-79 win over Xavier
- Middle Tennessee claims 1st C-USA title in school history