January 8, 1997 in Sports

Cougs Make It Look Effortless

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R
 

We have tried historical perspective to illustrate Washington State’s current basketball meltdown (“the worst back-to-back calamities since Julia Roberts’ marriages,” etc.).

Now for the hysterical perspective:

This was not amnesia, a 48-hour virus, temporary insanity. These are the Cougars unmasked.

A damned dark view, to be sure, and an untimely one. Here are the Cougs in their hour of greatest need, humiliated, confidence shot, finally returning for a weekend of home games - only to have to play them 75 miles from home, without a captive audience of students. And for a special guest villain: Oregon, undefeated and ranked 17th.

Holy Job, Batman.

“For 11 games we were getting better all the time,” said Cougar coach Kevin Eastman. “Maybe this is a message being sent to us - that this is how brutal we can be this year.”

The implication being that if the Cougars have any notion of rebuttal, now’s the time.

They are the ones left with the burden of proof. They had been given the benefit of the doubt through mirthless thumpings of EWU and Gonzaga and UC Irvine and San Jose State. A couple of split-decision losses in Hawaii to better sparring partners even got the generous of spirit to thinking that, say, maybe Eastman had something here.

And now, in the wake of the L.A. degradation - losses of 28 and 33 points to UCLA and USC we know he does. He has a big rock to roll up a steep hill.

To do the pushing, he has Isaac Fontaine - still stalking the school scoring record - and a fine supplementary talent in Carlos Daniel. He has three freshmen on whom the jury is still out though Beau Archibald is certainly a keeper, if only because he’ll make some play every game or two that alone is worth the price of admission. And Eastman has some spear-carriers.

Alas, they get pretty good billing in the credits. For instance, in Wazzu’s starting lineup is a guard who wasn’t even a starter at his junior college and a forward who had resigned himself to giving up the game until Eastman dangled a scholarship.

Not exactly the bullet train to glory in the Pac-10. Eastman, however, still believes this group can compete - this year, this weekend.

“We do have to find ways to keep the energy level real high,” he said. “We have to educate guys that we’re going to have ups and downs, and until you have the first you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it.”

The 1-2 record in the Rainbow Classic he doesn’t count as a down “because we played as close to our potential, more so than any of the three teams I’ve had here.”

Losses don’t trouble him that much.

“You can easily argue that Washington State was going to come out 0-2 on the (L.A.) trip anyway,” he said. “It’s not that it happened, but how.”

The Cougars left their game and go-juice in Hawaii or on the plane back, and Eastman has already second-guessed the wisdom of tipping off the Pac-10 season 48 hours after leaving paradise.

“There is more to showing up than, well, showing up,” Eastman said.

And surely - finally - the Cougars have stepped up from the cheap claimers. The average RPI the NCAA’s statistical grail of Wazzu’s opponents before Christmas was 170; tossing out Northwestern, the average of the foes since is 37. And the last two played better than that.

“Say what you want about UCLA,” Eastman said, “but based on what we saw from Michigan, they play so much harder and have every bit the athletes.”

Athletes, obviously, that the Cougars don’t have.

Whatever the verdict on this Wazzu recruiting class, more to the point is what the Cougars lost - or got rid of. Which is to say, their three quickest players (the graduated Shamon Antrum, the busted Donminic Ellison and the academically adrift Chris Scott) and Mark Hendrickson, who’s in the NBA when he isn’t being stashed on the injured list.

So they’re slower, they’re smaller - and without the will to defend like mad, they aren’t much.

“I’m not sure where our team is right now,” Eastman said. “Our confidence took a real jolt. Whatever good we got out of Hawaii, that’s out of their heads and what they remember is that they got beat badly.”

No other perspective required.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


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