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WSU hoops notebook: Rice three-peats as FOTW as Cougs inch closer to AP ranking

Feb. 12—PULLMAN — These days, the best news for Washington State might be that there's no news.

As the Cougars rack up wins, like Thursday's over Oregon State and Saturday's over Oregon, they aren't always appearing on NCAA Tournament experts' daily bubble updates. For the time being, they've played themselves off the bubble — and firmly in the tournament field.

With seven regular-season games remaining, including an upcoming weekend slate against Cal and Stanford, WSU is poised to end its 16-year NCAA Tournament drought. The Cougs sit at No. 40 in the NCAA NET rankings. They have collected four Quad 1 wins, four Quad 2 wins and have posted a 10-1 record in Quads 3 and 4.

That might be the resume of a tournament team. As of Monday, CBS has WSU as a No. 7 seed, avoiding a potential play-in game, as previously predicted. The Cougs no longer appear on ESPN's Joe Lunardi's bubble projections. They also appear on 86 of the 91 bracket predictions that BracketMatrix pulls from.

WSU (18-6, 9-4 Pac-12) used its win over Oregon to fuel this recent surge. Headed into the game, both teams sat near the bubble, which meant the loser would likely be in serious trouble — especially because it was a conference affair. The Cougs might have bumped the Ducks, now No. 61 in the NET rankings with a 2-4 Quad 1 record, off the bubble with that victory.

The Cougars sit second in the Pac-12 standings, trailing first-place Arizona by one game.

Inching closer to AP ranking

The Cougars earned 82 votes in this week's AP poll, released Monday, good for an unofficial No. 30 ranking. That's 76 more votes — and five spots — higher than last week.

WSU is seeking its first appearance in the AP poll since the final week of the 2007-08 season, when the Cougars checked in at No. 21, shortly after making a cameo in the Sweet 16 in former coach Tony Bennett's penultimate season with the program.

Washington State received one vote as high as No. 17 this week and three apiece at No. 18 and No. 19. The Cougs were left off the ballots of 42 voters.

Rice makes history

WSU guard Myles Rice made program history on Monday, earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors for the sixth time — and third-straight — this season. It's the most in the history of the program, which last had current Atlanta Hawks forward Mo Gueye rack up five of the awards.

Rice did it by leading WSU to wins over Oregon State and Oregon, the first time the Cougs swept that road trip since 2008-09. To beat the Ducks, Rice posted 21 points and a career-high nine rebounds, and to beat the Beavers, he went for eight points, four rebounds and six assists.

Rice will enter WSU's home matchup with Cal on Thursday as the team's leading scorer, with 15.6 points per game. He has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games. He is also three points back of Klay Thompson's freshman scoring mark, making Rice fourth in WSU freshman scoring history.

He isn't just scoring, though. Rice is on pace to break the Washington State freshman single-season steals record, averaging 1.6 swipes per contest, fifth overall in the Pac-12 and tops by a freshman. He is also averaging 3.8 assists per game, tops among conference freshmen.