So we finally get to talk about the game everyone has been thinking about the whole week. The Washington State Cougars (ranked number 4 in the country) come into Pauley Saturday morning for one of the marquee games in Pac-10's young conference season.
Where to begin wrt to the Cougars? Coach Howland already said last night following the Washington game that playing Wazzu will be basically getting a basketball version of "a root canal without any pain killers." He made the root canal comparison last year too without the reference to pain killers. Can't really blame the guy. With DC's availability now in doubt and Luc's bruises from Thursday night, the game against the Cougs is shaping up to be more than a huge headache.
Led by a nucleus of experienced juniors and seniors, the Cougars are enjoying a historic start to this highly anticipated season. They are off to their best start (15-0) in about 91 years. They kept things rolling last night with a throttling of the overhyped gap closers at the Costco Warehouse in downtown.
In terms of the rotation, we have heard all week from our beat reporters about how UCLA's starters were getting a lot of minutes. Well, take a look at this from Sportsline.com:
Usual Starters -- F Robbie Cowgill, C Aron Baynes, G Derrick Low, G Kyle Weaver, G Taylor Rochestie. Key Subs -- F Daven Harmeling, G Nick Koprivica, F Caleb Forrest.
Most of those guys should be familiar to folks here who have been following Pac-10 basketball very closely. Low, Rochestie, and Weaver present one of the best back court combinations in the country that rivals DC, Westbrook, and Shipp.
I imagine Howland will probably match Westbrook against Low. Needless to say, many of us are anxious to see what condition DC will be in tomorrow because his matchup against Rochestie will be key.
Weaver is one of the best point forward in the conference. He does a lot of things well. He scored only 7 points against the TrOJies but he was in charge of guarding Juice Deuce, who had decent numbers but once again failed to get his team-mates into the game. Weaver is a superb defender and rebounder, and I imagine he is going to be matched against Shipp.
In the front court, Love will be matched up against Baynes, who has a wide frame. He terrorized the TrOJies last night leading the Cougs in scoring with 18 points and 9 rebounds. While Luc will probably get the assignment against Cowgill/Hammerling.
Harmeling had a huge night against the gap-closers:
"I should have broke it earlier," Harmeling joked after he scored a season-high 19 points to lead unbeaten Washington State to a 73-58 triumph over USC at the Galen Center.
Harmeling's teammates had connected on just 4 of 20 shots before Harmeling drained WSU's last three shots of the first half -- all from 3-point territory -- for a 9-0 run that pushed the fourth-ranked Cougars ahead 27-21. WSU (14-0, 3-0 Pac-10) never trailed again, thanks partly to the clinic in offensive execution that the senior-laden Cougars gave the young Trojans in the second half.
"Daven kept us in there in the first half," coach Tony Bennett said. "We really came out to play in the second half. I thought that we were close to clicking on all cylinders."
Harmeling, a noted 3-point gunner who is WSU's top reserve, had been saddled in a season-long shooting slump before he missed two games after breaking his right thumb in practice in late December.
Harmeling surprised everyone by missing just two weeks. He sank 7 of 10 shots at USC, including 5 of 7 tries from 3-point range.
The Cougars are a very patient and smart team. They also don't turn the ball over much. They have the second best asst/TO ratio (1.27) in the conference. (ASU is first (1.28). UCLA is 4th (1.22)). [See Pac-10 Stats] They also shoot well from the FT line. Their .773 pct from the charity stripe also leads the conference.
Our guys will not be able to let their intensity down at any point of the game against these guys, who can kill their opponent with great passing, timely shots, and all out hustle and effort.
If the Bruins want to pull out a win tomorrow, they will have to show the same kind of patience on offense they showed up in the Bay Area because they are going to have their hands full with a tenacious Cougar defense.
As much as we love the defense of our Ben Ball warriors, numbers-wise, the Cougs are right up there. Wazzu leads the conference in scoring defense giving up 49.8 pts a game (the Bruins are second giving up 54.9 pts pg) and field goal pct defense (.369).
Just like the Ben Ball warriors, the Cougs can feature their own version of an extremely well coached, disciplined and stifling defense. Their guards are as good as anyone in the country in terms of generating on ball pressure and they can dismantle offenses by getting into passing lanes. More from Coach Howland on What's Bruin:
About Collison’s hip injury suffered last night at the start of the second half, Howland said "It looked very benign if you watched it. He must have hit in just in the right spot."
One advantage the Bruins will have is in size and athleticism with Love, AA2, Mata Real and Luc. Our guys will have to crash the boards to get some offensive rebounds and also making sure the Cougars are not getting any second chance points. And, as mentioned above, they will not be able to let their intensity down at any point during tomorrow's game because, if they do, the Cougars will make us pay with their effort and hustle just like they have done to their opponents throughout the season.
With DC and Luc banged up (Roll out), this will be another one of those gut check games like we had against Michigan State. We should be able to come out with the mentality of nothing to lose because they will not have a game for another week after tomorrow am. Let's hope our guys bring it right from the tip off.