PULLMAN – It was a simple play.
Oregon’s Malik Hairston made an outside drive. Washington State’s Nik Koprivica slid over to take away the baseline.
Hairston pivoted back to the middle and Koprivica planted his right leg to do the same.
Except Koprivica’s right knee gave way. The anterior cruciate ligament was torn.
“I was down on the ground (in) amazing pain,” Koprivica said this week. “I already knew what was going on.”
What was going on was the end of his freshman season.
As Koprivica, WSU’s lone senior men’s basketball player, prepared to make his last appearance on Friel Court tonight against Washington, the subject of his injury came up. How different would his career have been if the ligament had held up that late January night in 2007?
“I was just fitting really, really well with the guys,” Koprivica said. “Kinda had the perfect role, with Kyle (Weaver) and Derrick (Low) outside. I was the guy who was moving all the time. Having a great season.”
The sixth man on a team that would finish 26-8 and get to the second round of the NCAA tournament, Koprivica was averaging 15 minutes and 4.6 points a game. He was the perfect fit, a perpetual motion machine who made everyone better.
Without Koprivica, WSU would still finish second in the Pac-10. The Cougars defeated Oral Roberts in the NCAA first round, then lost 78-74 in double overtime to Vanderbilt in a game in which one play might have made the difference. Could Koprivica have supplied that play?
“I thought I could have been that little thing that got us over the hump,” he said. “It was pretty tough, because I thought we could have done something pretty special that year. We still did great, but I thought we could have gone a couple steps further.”
Koprivica was supposed to miss a year. He was back in seven months. But it took him until this season, the Serbian’s last in Pullman, to regain his form.
“Definitely his first year and a lot of last year, I think he was a little cautious about his knee in the way he played, maybe in the way he approached the game,” said redshirt sophomore Abe Lodwick, who has been Koprivica’s teammate for three years.
His scoring average didn’t reach his freshman level until this season, when a marked improvement in his 3-point shooting – he leads the Cougars, hitting 41.8 percent of his 84 attempts – has helped him score 8.8 points per game.
“This year has definitely been a turning point for him,” said Lodwick, who shares the power forward spot with Koprivica. “He’s definitely playing with more confidence. It shows in the way he moves.
“He’s finally, just now, getting to the point where his knee is better.”
That improved play has been shown more than just on the stat sheet. If the Cougars can win today, Koprivica will have been a part of as many wins as any WSU player, tying George Hamilton with 86 in a career.
“I wanted to have four years of great basketball,” Koprivica said. “I was like, ‘Gee, maybe if I had redshirted or something.’ But I didn’t want to, I wanted to play. … It’s too bad I got hurt because who knows how far I would have gone if I had, literally, four years.”
He’ll bow out of the WSU limelight tonight in front of a full Beasley crowd and the two people who mean the most to him – his parents, who made the long trip to see the end of his senior year and his graduation.
“When I step on the court (today) – the gym’s going to be packed, I know it – and they call me out for the senior night thing, to get a jersey, it’s definitely going to be emotional,” Koprivica said.