WSU Gives Itself More Than Enough To Feel Good About
In the absence of a reliable archivist, the prevailing belief Saturday was that Washington State had never before beaten ranked teams back-to-back.
Oh, it could have happened in the deep, dark days of Bohler Gym, when a single opponent would come and stay the weekend, but it doesn’t seem like that should count.
Not the way this weekend will. Two teams - No. 17 Cal and No. 23 Stanford. Two Ws. Two giant leaps for Cougarkind.
“We’re making history this year,” claimed guard Donminic Ellison.
He comes by his confidence naturally. Out on the floor of Friel Court after the Cougars had run off Stanford 77-63, Ellison’s father, Donnie, could be heard making plans to get tickets to the Final Four.
He was joking. Probably.
The giddiness of Wazzu’s spectacular start to the Pacific-10 Conference basketball season may eventually wear off - perhaps as quickly as next weekend, when the Cougs must visit Los Angeles, their personal black hole. Seventeen straight losses at USC and UCLA is a pretty sobering history.
But for now there’s just too much to feel good about - outgutting the NBA’s West Coast farm club on Thursday night and then undressing one of the last three unbeaten teams in Division I basketball.
“I never thought we’d go undefeated all season,” said Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, “but you’d like to be a little more competitive.”
Just whether that parlay should propel the Cougars into the Top 25 was offered for debate.
“I would have to say yes,” said guard Shamon Antrum after considerable hemming and hawing because coach Kevin Eastman was in the room and all ears.
“I don’t know,” Eastman said, “and I don’t care. I’d love it for the fans and our players, but I really do want to be in those things at the end of the year. But they’ll have to think about us.”
“I’ll be a little more vocal than coach and Shamon,” he said. “Yes, I do think we should be ranked.”
At 6-3, however, it isn’t likely to happen. Even though the polls are a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately proposition, the Cougars will probably have to do a little more.
The Cougars made 60 percent of their shots against the Pac-10’s best defensive team, if you believe what the stats tell you. This assault included some remarkable runs - Antrum burying 15 points in the first 8 minutes and Ellison triggering the gamebreaking burst in the second half.
They outrebounded the Cardinal - No. 2 behind Wazzu in the conference - 35-26, even though league leader Mark Hendrickson spent 17 minutes on the bench.
They limited Stanford’s dazzling young guards, Brevin Knight and Dion Cross, to 7-of-19 shooting - though in fairness, Knight was limited far more by the hot spot on his right leg that threatens to become a stress fracture and Montgomery’s mandate to moderate his playing time.
“It’s frustrating for everybody because it’s hard to get a feel,” Montgomery said. “I banked minutes to try and play the second half straight up … but there wasn’t a whole lot happening regardless. We didn’t play as hard or with as much poise as they did.”
And that was true for players one through nine. Suddenly, the supposedly depthless Cougars don’t seem to be so depthless. When fouls forced Hendrickson to the bench 5 minutes into the game, Rob Corkrum, Tavares Mack and David Vik scored 12 of Wazzu’s last 23 points of the half.
Sometimes, the resort-to guys are as important as the go-to guys.
Less important than whether the Cougs show up in a poll this week is whether this gets them back to square after what they didn’t get done in December. Given the blazing starts of some Pac-10 teams - the Arizonas, UCLA and Oregon as well as Stanford and Cal - it seemed all too possible that losses to Eastern Michigan and Idaho would be the gaffes that kept Wazzu out of the postseason.
That was pegging the Cougs as a .500 team in the Pac-10 - or exactly what they’ve been the past four seasons. If they go 6-3 out of the conference, 12-6 in it would seem to be the minimum that would get them into the NCAAs for a second straight year.
“No question about it - we’re better than a .500 team,” insisted Ellison. “I’m not going to give you a record, but I sincerely think we’re better than .500. Our confidence level now is such that we think we can place in the top three - and if we continue to play smart, simple, play hard and defend, we’ll be fine.”
And they may make history, to boot.