It’s been a year of surprises for Eastern Washington.
For starters, there’s the starting lineup, which has seen 10 different incarnations in 22 games. It will be 11 tonight at Sacramento State if guard Jeffrey Forbes returns from a hand injury and leading scorer and rebounder Venky Jois is unable to play on an injured ankle suffered last week.
At the beginning of the season, the regular starters figured to be Forbes and Justin Crosgile at guard, Jois and Collin Chiverton at forward and Martin Seiferth at post.
For a variety of reasons, only Seiferth saw the court for the opening tip against Montana. During a three-game homestand that included wins over Portland State and Montana State, Eastern got most of its quality minutes from projected backups Parker Kelly (107 minutes in three games), Kevin Winford (104) and Thomas Reuter (94).
“When you look at the recent injuries,” head coach Jim Hayford said, “Parker more than anyone has been the most rock-steady guy. And Kevin has been a strong example for our young team.”
Jois is uncertain for tonight’s game at Sacramento State.
“We know nothing is broken, but it’s still real questionable,” Hayford said.
Forbes’ injury (a cut between the ring finger and pinkie on his right hand) is more severe than it looks, Hayford said, adding that Forbes finally endured a full practice this week after 2 ½ weeks.
“He has a high pain tolerance,” Hayford said. “At best it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Gonzaga is 8-0 midway through the WCC season and five of its last eight games are at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are 58-2 in conference games.
“Anytime you go 8-0, whatever conference you’re in, your guys should feel good about themselves,” coach Mark Few said. “Now they shouldn’t rest or be content. We need to keep getting better or we definitely won’t go 8-0 in the second half.”
Gonzaga’s toughest challenges figure to come on the road, with dates against second-place Saint Mary’s (8-1), San Francisco and third-place BYU (8-2). Saint Mary’s and BYU are a combined 25-1 at home, with the Gaels handing the Cougars their lone setback on Matthew Dellavedova’s 35-foot shot at the buzzer. USF (3-7) has knocked off Gonzaga at War Memorial Gym the last three seasons.
“Tough places for us,” Few said. “We have a lot of work (left).”
Just one Pac-12 team sits behind WSU in the conference standings at the midway point, but coach Ken Bone says his team hasn’t lost its focus despite its disappointing record.
With nine games remaining, the Cougars need to win at least five to guarantee a non-losing regular season record.
“I like the fact that our guys are coming back and you see some life,” Bone said.