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Cougars head to Oregon schools focused on avoiding letdown

As Washington State begins the second half of the Pac-10 season, the Cougars face a daunting challenge:

Put last Sunday’s charged-up 87-80 upset over then-No. 18 Washington behind them.

“We’re coming off a big win and quite often … it is hard to turn the page,” WSU coach Ken Bone said this week. “It’s a short week and we can’t live in the past.”

Bone invoked the fate of two West Coast Conference schools, Saint Mary’s and USF, as a way of warning his team. Both the Gaels, who were blown out at Portland, and the Dons, who nearly lost to LMU then were upset by Pepperdine, struggled after big wins over Gonzaga.

The Cougars have their own history on which to draw. After the win early this season over GU, Washington State suffered a letdown against overmatched Texas-Pan American.

“It’s a short week and after a big win like that you can’t drop off,” WSU’s Abe Lodwick said. “We didn’t play too well against Pan American. We have to keep focused and hopefully use the win to build momentum.”

Focus has been the focus of practice this week.

“We had a good practice today, really competed with each other,” Klay Thompson said Wednesday. “We just need to stay focused on the task at hand, which is trying to compete for the Pac-10 championship.”

Despite the draining nature of the UW win and the short week, most of the Cougars believe they’ll be ready tonight.

“It won’t be hard to focus for me,” said freshman Patrick Simon, who experienced his first rivalry game last Sunday. “I’m sure it’s different for everybody, but I think we’re all in the same mindset, with the same goal. We want to win our next game.”

Floor burn

Another aspect of tonight is it will be WSU’s first visit to Oregon’s 12,541 seat Matthew Knight Arena and its odd-looking fir-designed floor.

“I think it’s ugly,” said Bend, Ore., native Lodwick, who, like all the Cougars, has seen the floor on TV only. “I think it’s typical of the University of Oregon. They like things loud and flashy. It fits them well.

“I’ve heard really good things about the arena, heard it’s beautiful. But I think the court itself might be a little over the top.”

Bone won’t go that far, reserving judgment until he sees it in person. But he wonders if it isn’t designed for more than shock value.

“Maybe that’s why it is the way it is,” he said of a possible home-court advantage. “Boise State football has a little advantage playing at home with a very unique field. Eastern Washington wins a national championship playing on red turf.

“Maybe that has something to do with why it’s decorated the way it is.”

Hyland leaves Vermont

Former Gonzaga Bulldog Keegan Hyland is now a former Vermont Catamount.

Hyland left Gonzaga over the holiday break and enrolled at Vermont. The 6-foot-4 guard practiced with the Catamounts and attended school for about two weeks, but a Vermont athletic department spokesperson confirmed Hyland has left the team and he’s apparently returned home to Portland, Maine.

Hyland practiced sparingly because of injuries and didn’t appear in any GU games.

Utah State looms

Idaho far eclipsed the expectations of most when it roared to wins in five of its first six Western Athletic Conference games. But all along, the Vandals knew their toughest WAC games were scheduled for late in the season.

The Vandals still have two games left with 22nd-ranked Utah State – they’re the only WAC team that has yet to play the first-place Aggies – and trips to Nevada and Boise State.

UI is one of four teams – along with BSU, UNR and New Mexico State – bunched behind USU and within one game in the loss column of each other.

“We’re really the ones who have a chance to catch (Utah State), because we play them twice,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Whether that can happen or not, I don’t know. But that No. 2 seed is definitely up for grabs.”

Jim Meehan and Josh Wright contributed to this report.