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Emotions aside, it’s big game

Sat., Feb. 28, 2009

Senior Day contest also vital for Cougar hopes

PULLMAN – It’s going to be emotional. There’s no way to avoid it. But the seniors Washington State will honor today in their final Beasley Coliseum appearance know they can’t let the emotion take over.

There’s too much at stake.

“It’s going to be emotional, but we’ve got to keep it in check,” said Aron Baynes, one of those being honored in a pregame ceremony. “Arizona State is a great team and we have to focus all our energy on them.”

The game – against the No. 14-ranked Sun Devils – has taken on even greater importance following WSU’s back-to-back wins over UCLA and Arizona and the Sun Devils’ Thursday night loss to Washington.

The Cougars are trying to keep their postseason hopes alive with ASU (21-6, 10-5 Pac-10, 11/2 games behind first-place UW) trying to do the same with its Pac-10 championship dreams.

When asked after Thursday night’s 69-53 rout of Arizona if WSU was playing its best basketball at the exact right time, Caleb Forrest, another senior, said no.

“We had NCAA expectations. That’s why I said it was a little too late,” Forrest said Friday. “If we had started playing this way two weeks ago, then it would have been soon enough to still make it happen with the NCAA.

“We’ve narrowed the gap to get in and made it harder on ourselves.”

It’s not as if the Cougars don’t expect to keep playing beyond the Pac-10 tournament in two weeks, it’s just that expectations in the program have been raised after consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Those thoughts have faded over the course of their 15-13 season (7-9 Pac-10).

“In my mind, to make the NCAA tournament, obviously, we have to win the Pac-10 tournament, period,” senior Daven Harmeling said. “We’re not getting an at-large. I understand that.

“But in terms of the importance of this game, I just want to play as hard as I can for the last time on this court.

“After we lost to USC we decided we’re going to have fun. There might not be anything after these next few games, no postseason, so why not have fun with the games we have left?”

Senior guard Taylor Rochestie has been enjoying the last week a lot more than the weeks before. In the most recent seven days he’s scored 50 points, earned Pac-10 player of the week honors and seen the Cougars post two key wins.

“That’s where we want to be,” Rochestie said of the postseason, adding the Cougars might have felt they were owed another NCAA berth early in the season.

“Now we see how hard it is to win and we are starting to play with more passion as if it’s kind of a win-or-go-home mentally. It’s kind of like each game is the tournament.”

Before there is a postseason tournament, however, there are the little matters of Senior Day and the Sun Devils.

“Maybe a few more nerves before the game, a little more emotional,” Baynes said. “But once that ball goes up it will be basketball first. That’s how it is.”

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