Returning Cougars to fight for playing time

PULLMAN – It was just four games ago Washington State’s basketball season seemed to be going south.

After blowing a 14-point second-half lead and losing to UC Riverside, capping a 0-3 performance at the 76 Classic in Southern California, the Cougars were 2-4.

Senior power forward Abe Lodwick hadn’t played a game with a broken bone in his foot and no one knew when he would return.

Junior guard Mike Ladd missed the UCR game with a sprained thumb and was out indefinitely.

And senior guard Faisal Aden, the team’s leading scorer, was about to suffer a concussion against Grambling and miss the following three games.

“I remember talking to the guys after the Riverside game,” said Lodwick, a captain, “saying we can either feel sorry for ourselves or we can hold our chins up and go after it and go get a win.”

The talk must have worked. Since the ill-fated Anaheim trip, the Cougars have won four consecutive games, a streak they’ll try to extend to five this afternoon when they host NCAA Division II Western Oregon (9-1 after defeating Notre Dame de Namur on Saturday night) in Beasley Coliseum.

And they’ve put together the winning streak without those three key players.

“Our kids are starting to understand that, if we have a chance to be good, we have to do it together as a group,” WSU coach Ken Bone said this week. “That was a disappointing trip … that I think woke some of our guys up.”

“The culture of our team has changed,” Lodwick added. “We are a tough group. That’s what we want our identity to be and, moving forward, we only want to get tougher.”

Bone said Friday the trio of injured players will be back in uniform today, but how much they’ll play against a Runnin’ Wolves team that is tied atop the GNAC with a 2-0 record remains to be seen.

“They’re going to have to find a way to fit in to what we have going on right now,” Bone said. “I feel bad for them, they’ve been injured, but it’s their job now to try to fit into the way we’ve been playing.

“When I say that, I mean as hard and aggressive as we’ve been playing and, at the same time, the fact we are really sharing the ball well.”

That attitude is fine with Lodwick, who has been fitting in and sharing the ball the past five years.

“Any time you bring a player back, there’s going to be a little bit of a wrinkle,” Lodwick said. “But I don’t necessarily think that has to be a bad thing. The way I see it, if I’m coming off the bench, or Mike Ladd is coming off the bench, or even Faisal, we’re doing pretty well for ourselves.

“The last thing you want to do is upset the flow. So our job as guys coming back is to fit in and keep things going the same direction we’ve been going the last four games.”

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