One. That’s the number of Pac-10 games Washington State has won when they’ve been outrebounded. The first Stanford game. Otherwise, against Cal twice, against USC in LA and, of course, the beating on the boards that was the Cougars first game against UW, the Cougars lost the boards and the game. The 36-20 UW margin was by far – USC by 12 was the next biggest margin – the worst performance on the glass WSU has endured this season. So obviously Washington State has to at least hold its own on the boards today. They’ll have to do it without Daven Harmeling, who injured his right shoulder at the end of practice Thursday and won’t play today. The shoulder sprain makes him day-to-day. It’s the same shoulder that’s been bothering him all season but not the one that cost him his sophomore season. For other thoughts about the showdown at BofA – or Hec Ed if you prefer – read on.
• There are other keys, of course, but it all starts with toughness on the boards. There is no bigger dagger to a defensive-oriented team like Washington State as second-chance points. The Huskies had 12 last time, including a big Darnell Gant follow dunk after the Cougars had forced a tough Jon Brockman shot while trailing 49-41. The Cougars’ hopes in that area aren’t helped by the absence of Harmeling, who, though he hasn’t shot well this season, still offers another tough body off the bench.
Another key to watch for early is how well Marcus Capers is doing putting pressure on Isaiah Thomas. Not forcing turnovers, mind you, but just making him work to initiate the offense. This is something all the guards have to do, that is, supply enough ball pressure out front to make it more difficult for UW to enter the ball into the post, but not so much that the UW guards can get the ball into the lane with the bounce. Speaking of guards, Taylor Rochestie is warming up with his right ring finger taped, though I’ve been told he might cut it off before the game. Asking a couple former college guards how hard it is to dribble with their fingers taped, the answer was “tough.” We’ll see how Rochestie does. Final guard note: Watch how UW attacks Klay Thompson with Quincy Pondexter. Wouldn’t shock me if the Huskies don’t move Brockman high and try to get Pondexter alone at the block.
• Our final thoughts. The biggest advance this Cougar team has made lately is toughness on the defensive end. Since the USC game, WSU has been able to get stops when it needs to, even against UCLA in that shootout. Rebounding has something to do with it – the Cougars are +19 on the glass during their three-game winning streak – but the ability to control penetration has been even a bigger part. That takes toughness, the desire to work for 40 minutes moving your feet and keeping a quicker guy in front. But no one will test in this conference more than UW. Thomas, Justin Dentmon, Venoy Overton. They all can bounce it and get to the rim. If they do consistently, the Huskies are Pac-10 champions all by their lonesome. And the Cougars are playing next Wednesday.
• That’s it for now. We’ll return at halftime. Until then …