SEATTLE – The opponents for Washington State’s 6-year-old Cougar Hardwood Classic in KeyArena have been a varied lot.
From the well-known (Louisiana State last season) to the obscure (The Citadel), from the traditional power (Utah) to the overmatched (Montana State).
But tonight’s foe can boast of one attribute the others couldn’t.
For the first time, the visiting team, in this case the University of Portland, is located closer to the venue than the hosts.
About 100 miles and at least two hours closer.
“They’ll get a good crowd there,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Though tonight’s crowd should be nearly all wearing crimson, a significant minority will be in Portland purple.
But of more significance to the Cougars will be the team on the floor, many of whom have ties to the Seattle area.
Portland’s best player, guard Jared Stohl, is from up the road in Marysville. Their best big man, post Luke Sikma, is from across Lake Washington in Bellevue.
The Pilots of the West Coast Conference are 4-1, with their loss coming to 12th-ranked Kentucky, 79-48, before 10,216 last Friday night in the Rose Garden.
The next night they traveled to Moscow and handled Idaho, 66-53, before 598 in Memorial Gym.
Stohl, one of the nation’s leaders in 3-point shooting (47.7 percent) last season, is the only Pilot whose scoring average is in double figures (15 points per game) and he’s converted 51.5 percent of his 3-pointers.
“He can really shoot it,” Bone said, admiring the 6-foot-2 Stohl’s ability to free himself for open shots through sharp, fast cuts off screens.
Sikma, at 6-8 not the tallest of the Pilots (they have five players 6-8 or taller), dominates the glass, averaging 13.8 rebounds to go with his 9.2 points per game.
“They are a physical team,” Bone said. “They’re big and strong and they can beat you inside.”
The Cougars (2-0), who dominated the glass in their opener vs. Southern but were outrebounded by five in an 88-71 home win over Idaho, will counter with 6-8 DeAngelo Casto (eight rebounds, five blocks in two games) inside along with the long arms of 6-4 Marcus Capers (15 rebounds against Southern) and 6-6 Klay Thompson (10 rebounds total) from the guard spots.
Thompson, averaging 19 points per game, has had to help with the point guard duties due to the wrist injury suffered by Reggie Moore, which will keep the 6-1 Seattle native out of the lineup indefinitely.
Faisal Aden has helped offensively, with the 6-4 junior college transfer guard leading the Cougarsin scoring, averaging 22 points per game.