They are intense, loud, colorful and fun. But college basketball rivalries are also relative.
Which is why Washington State’s Kevin Eastman isn’t approaching this afternoon’s Pacific-10 Conference matchup against the cross-state rival Washington Huskies any differently than he did the Gardner-Webb game when he was coaching at the NAIA level at Belmont Abbey five years ago.
“We have no misconception about what the game is going to be about or how it is going to be played,” said Eastman, who will get his first taste of the UW-WSU rivalry when the teams meet for the 237th time at 3 p.m. on Friel Court. “We understand fully that Saturday’s game is going to be a war.
“But what makes the game important isn’t the fact that it’s against Washington. The most important reason to win this game is to get another conference win.”
That philosophy, Eastman insists, hasn’t changed in his mind since those days in the late 1980s when Gardner-Webb would make its annual 45-minute drive from from Boiling Springs, N.C., to face his Belmont Abbey team.
“Our approach was the same even back then,” Eastman explained. “We’re trying to protect our home floor against whoever comes in here.”
The Cougars have done a wonderful job of that recently, having run off 11 consecutive home wins since a 98-87 loss to Oregon last February.
They will bring a 4-2 Pac-10 record and 9-5 overall mark into today’s game against a UW team (1-5, 5-9) that has been a bit difficult to predict.
The Huskies took Kansas State into overtime before losing 63-62 on the road early in the year. And they stunned Michigan 65-61 in the title game of their own U.S. West Cellular Air Time Tournament in Seattle.
But included in UW’s record are unsightly losses to Montana and Loyola Marymount. Still, Eastman sees problems ahead because of the way the Huskies play defense.
“They’re very quick at four spots, for sure,” he said, “and that is what has allowed them to be so successful defensively. They are going to win or lose games based on their defense, because the defense does create a lot of their offensive opportunities.”
UW, which ranks No. 2 in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and third in steals, is allowing only 67.6 points per game. But the Huskies rank last in the league in scoring (65.1 points), field-goal percentage (41.2) and rebound margin (-5.0).
WSU, meanwhile, continues to rank among the league’s best offensive teams with a scoring average of almost 85 points per game.
Eastman is pleased with the progress his young team has made and is hoping its up-tempo style will entice a big crowd to today’s game.
“Rivalry games are always fun to play in, I think,” Eastman said. “And I think this will turn out to be a great fans’ game, too. It would be tremendous if we could sell it out. Everybody I’ve talked to about it has said no way, but maybe we can surprise some people.
“If we’re going to get interest in basketball up to high level across the state, I think these intrastate games should be well attended.”
Despite its recent success at home, WSU has drawn an average of only 4,595 fans per game at the 12,058-seat Friel Court. The Cougars attracted a season-high 7,093 for their 83-78 upset of Oregon on Jan. 19.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.