The Washington State Cougars have played in a couple of hostile environments this season, losing in early December in the cacophony of sound that is Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center and at Kansas State three days later.
But none of those compares to Arizona’s McKale Center when the 14,545 are revved up by their Wildcats.
“It’s similar to Gonzaga,” said Abe Lodwick, a redshirt sophomore who experienced the waves of sound that helped wash away the Cougars 66-56 last season. “But the crowd is two to three times as big. Arizona’s huge. I know they’re a team that always goes on runs, and when they do, that place, it’s like the roof could blow off the top.”
The Cougars seemed to have the crowd, and the Wildcats, under control last year, but both got going after halftime and Arizona posted one of its 21 wins, en route to its 25th consecutive NCAA berth.
That streak is in jeopardy this year as the Wildcats (7-7, 1-1 Pac-10) have been blown out at home by 30 (by BYU) and lost on the road to Oklahoma and San Diego State.
Still, the Wildcats can score in bunches, led by senior guard Nic Wise and precocious freshman big Derrick Williams.
“When a team goes on their runs – and they will against us this year – that’s when, hopefully, your team is mentally strong,” Lodwick said. “For a team that’s young, that’s tough, but I feel our team is an exception.”
The game is also an exception to the norm, being held on a Friday instead of the usual Thursday to avoid a conflict with the BCS national title football game.
Last season guard Marcus Capers shot 29 percent from the floor. Through 14 games this season – WSU is 11-3, 1-1 in the Pac-10 – Capers is shooting 56.7 percent.
“Coach (Ken Bone) told me, well, actually Coach and my dad (Frankie) told me, for us to win, I am going to have to stay on the court,” Capers said. “The way for me to stay on the court, I have to stay aggressive on offense. If I don’t, it’s like they are guarding four people.”
Capers stayed aggressive last Saturday in the Cougars’ 65-60 win over Oregon State. That aggressiveness paid off in a big way with 7 minutes, 47 seconds left.
The Beavers had cut a 10-point WSU lead to two and with leading scorer Klay Thompson on the bench with four fouls, the Cougars had gone more than 3 minutes without scoring.
But Capers ended the drought in a big way, gathering a pass fumbled by DeAngelo Casto, attacking the rim and dunking, bringing the Beasley Coliseum crowd to its feet.
Capers finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, the first double-double of the sophomore’s career.
Johnson lights it up
One of Eastern Washington’s biggest challenges in tonight’s Big Sky Conference game against Montana in Missoula will be figuring out a way to slow down the Grizzlies’ Anthony Johnson, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who is averaging a team-high 16.4 points per game.
Johnson is shooting 46.2 percent (80 for 193) from the field – including 35.6 percent (16 for 45) from 3-point range – and has made 87.9 percent (87 for 99) of his free throws.
“He scores the ball in four different ways, which makes him hard to guard,” EWU coach Kirk Earlywine said. “There just aren’t many guys who shoot it really well from the arc, have a midrange pull-up game like his, and get all the way to the rim and either score or get to the free-throw line the way he does.”
Eagles get healthier
With the exception of senior forward Matt Brunell, whose availability will be a game-time decision because of an ankle sprain that kept him out of last Thursday’s home win over Sacramento State, EWU should be as close to full strength as it has been all year when it faces Montana tonight.
“Other than Matt, we’re healthy,” said Earlywine, whose Eagles have had to deal with an inordinate amount of early-season injuries.
Earlywine would not say whether senior guard Benny Valentine, who did not play against Sacramento State because of a “coach’s decision,” would be used against the Grizzlies.
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