Ken Bone (AP)
Now with the regular season over, March Madness begins on Thursday with the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament beginning. The Huskies, who finished with the No. 3 seed, will go against the No. 6 seeded Washington State Cougars. The game will start at 8:30 p.m. PST in the Staple Center in Los Angeles. As usual, this contest will be carried live on Fox Sports Northwest and 950-KJR AM.
It's been a topsy-turvy week for the Huskies, as senior guard Venoy Overton was charged with a gross misdemeanor in conjunction with an incident back in early January. As a result, Overton won't be available for UW's Pac-10 Tournament run.
On top of that, the status of senior co-captain Justin Holiday remains a bit of a mystery after he suffered a concussion Saturday in Washington's 2-point loss to USC. "We don’t know what is going with Justin, he feels like he can play, so I feel as a team we are positive that he is going to do everything in his power to be able to play this weekend," UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning said Tuesday. "But we just know that we’ve been through this before, a lot of injuries happened to the end of the season. We just have to go out there and try to play with what we have on the court and what is available.”
"It's been the toughest year since I've been a coach here, for me - I'd say," Romar remarked as his team prepared for their trip to LA. "Other programs go through this. We're not the first program to go through these type of things. It just that we hadn't gone through them here very often."
The Cougars (19-11, 9-9) have certainly been one of the reasons why it's been a tough year for UW. They have already beaten the Huskies two times this year, with an 87-80 win in Pullman on Jan. 30 and an 80-69 victory in Seattle on Feb. 27. The Cougars beat the Huskies three times in 2007, but you'd have to go back 66 years to find another WSU team as dominant over their cross-state rivals.
This season, in both matchups, it was the Klay Thompson show. The 6-foot-6 junior guard for WSU displayed his impressive skill set with 25 and 26 points, respectively. He also had a combined six steals. Thompson was re-instated Monday night after serving a one-game suspension. He was arrested for marijuana possession a week ago.
So far this season, Thompson has had a few off nights, but is still averaging a Pac-10 high 21.4 points per game and has gone into double-digits in 27 of his 29 games. To go with that, he averages 5.1 rebounds and four assists. However, his game still has some flaws, as he average of 3.6 turnovers a contest, ranking him first in the Pac-10 and No. 18 nationally. His importance to the Cougars is clearly significant, as he takes 27.2 percent of their shots and accounts for 28.3 percent of their points.
Supporting Thompson in his scoring efforts has been junior college transfer Faisal Aden. The 6-foot-4 junior guard is averaging 12.9 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field. On defense, he can be a menace at times averaging1.4 steals a contest. He has slowed down in conference play with just 10.6 points on 35 percent shooting.
Down in the paint, DeAngelo Casto provides powerful play on both ends of the court. A 6-foot-8, 255-pound junior, Casto is averaging 12 points a game on 60 percent shooting from the field. He also averages 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal a contest. In the last seven games, he is averaging 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds.
With Aden coming off the bench, rounding out the starting five will be Reggie Moore at point guard and Abe Lodwick at power forward. Moore averages 9.5 points and 3.5 assists and Lodwick contributes 3.6 points and four rebounds. Moore is expected to play Thursday after injuring his ankle a week ago against USC. He did not play in the Cougars' close loss to UCLA last Saturday.
Ken Bone, who is a former assistant coach for Lorenzo Romar, has a 35-26 record in his two years at the helm for the Cougars. So far this year, Washington State is solid in several stats, but the best one they have going for them is opponent’s field goal percentage. At 39.3 percent, WSU comes in at No. 11 nationally and No. 1 in the conference.
"It's not like they are the best in the country, and we're like 'Whoa, we're playing Wazzu - this is going to be tough'," UW guard Isaiah Thomas said this week. "They played two good games, and we give them all the credit, because they battled those two games and beat us. But it's hard to beat a team three times, and we're going to be well-prepared for what they've got."
The winner of this contest will go on to play in the semi-finals on Friday against No. 2 seed UCLA (22-9. 13-5), or the winner of the Arizona State-Oregon game. That game will take place at 8:30 p.m. PST and will be shown live on Fox Sports Northwest.