This was the week when Washington State was to have proven itself as either a surprise contender or surplus pretender in the Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball race.
But with starting point guard Donminic Ellison flattened by chicken pox and unable to accompany the team on its annual swing into Arizona, the Cougars find themselves in much the same position they were in the last time they challenged one of the league’s elite on the road.
“This is the second time a perimeter player has gone down against a quality opponent,” WSU coach Kevin Eastman said Tuesday afternoon as he continued preparing his undermanned Cougars for the Thursday 5 p.m. (PST) showdown against 12thranked Arizona at McKale Center.
“We’re disappointed that we have to go down there the way we do. It just puts added pressure on some guys who have never played that (point guard) position to play and produce against two ranked teams.”
The Cougars, who face 16th-ranked Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., Sunday afternoon in front of a regional ABC-TV television audience, faced a similar situation almost three weeks ago when they were in Los Angeles to take on UCLA.
The 7th-ranked Bruins were No. 2 at the time and Ellison was suspended - along with sophomore forward Tavares Mack - for breaking curfew two nights earlier following a 85-76 loss to Southern California.
Freshman Chris Griffin and juniorcollege transfer Shamon Antrum shared time at the point and the outcome was disastrous. Neither seemed capable or confident enough to deal with the quickness of the Bruins’ Tyus Edney and the Cougars were blown away early in a 91-78 loss that was nowhere near that close.
Thursday night their task will be even tougher with Wildcat senior Damon Stoudamire applying the defensive pressure.
The two teams are tied for second place in the Pac-10 standings (5-2), just a halfgame behind UCLA (6-2). Arizona has won the last 18 games in the series, which dates back to 1960.
Eastman had hoped to play quick against the Wildcats and steal some easy baskets out of transition. But without Ellison’s experience at the point, he said he may be forced to slow the pace down just to stay close.
“We’ll probably go down there with a totally different game plan than we anticipated on Sunday,” he said. “Arizona and Arizona State are going to want a real fast game now that they know Donminic’s position.”
Adding to Eastman’s concerns is the fact that Griffin is suffering from some sort of respiratory problem that limits the amount of time he can go full out before having to rest.
Eastman said he first noticed the problem shortly after the Cougars’ trip to El Paso, Texas, for the Sun Classic.
“We have to be careful to get Chris in and out of the game quite a bit,” Eastman added. “What I understand is that maybe his lungs do not have 100 percent of the capacity that a normal person’s does.
“He’s still coughing quite a bit in practice and games and he gets to the heavy breathing and almost wheezing after about three minutes of play. We have to take him out every three or four minutes.”
Griffin, whose only other start came against UCLA, is averaging six points and one assist per game. Antrum is averaging 12.5 points and 3.1 assists.
Eastman said he is hopeful Ellison will not be out more than a week.
“But he certainly could be,” he added.
Eastman said a check of his own players revealed that everyone on his roster has been been exposed to chicken pox in the past.
That might not be the case, however, with players from Washington who might have been exposed to the illness during Saturday afternoon’s hard-fought 74-73 loss.
The Huskies got word of Ellison’s illness Monday morning and were still trying to determine if any of their players might be susceptible to contracting the disease.
“They were certainly tight enough on him during the game to have caught it,” Eastman quipped. “But hopefully, their situation is like ours in that most of their guys have had it.”
Arizona State coach Bill Frieder, who could probably do a stand-up comedy routine about his relationship with his wife, Janice, managed to get in another barb at his better half last weekend after his briefcase was stolen from his hotel room in Eugene, Ore.
“If the bills from those (stolen) credit cards are less than what my wife charges- which will probably be the case, I won’t report them as stolen.”
Janice proved she can hold her own against her husband, however, by adding, “You notice they didn’t take his wardrobe.”
Oregon and Washington are the only Pac-10 teams which have not made it to the NCAA Tournament in the 1990s… . Former USC coach George Raveling will make his debut as a television analyst Saturday, Feb. 11, when he joins play-byplay commentator Keith Shipman for Raycom’s telecast of the Oregon-Oregon State game… . The Pac- 10 is 68-24 against nonconference opponents and is an impressive 4-0 against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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