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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Huskies Bomb Away, Dump Cougs WSU Misses De La Fuente And His 3-Point Defense

Will Hutchens chased down the loose ball at full speed and was headed straight for Dave Cowens, the gritty Hall of Fame center, who happened to be sitting at press row for Monday night’s Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball opener between Washington and Washington State.

Hutchens slammed into the table with alarming force. Cowens, of course, was in perfect position and calmly took the charge. Didn’t even flinch.

Such fundamentals were lost on the Huskies and Cougars, who combined for 51 turnovers before Washington stumbled away with an 82-76 victory at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Washington won by making 9 of 19 from beyond the 3-point arc, exploiting the colossal void left when Rodrigo de la Fuente, WSU’s best perimeter defender, quit the team Sunday to sign a lucrative contract with a professional team in his native Spain.

De la Fuente’s abrupt departure did more than allow openings for Washington (8-2) guards Deon Luton and Donald Watts, who combined for seven 3-pointers and 41 points. His departure left coaches and teammates reeling.

“Blindsided,” said 6-foot-8 forward Steve Slotemaker, who suddenly finds himself trying to play the perimeter. “It was a total shock to me. I was called at 12:30 in the morning by Blake (Pengelly) and he told me and I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t sleep that night.”

De la Fuente, who was averaging 16 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, signed a three-year contract for significantly more than the NBA minimum of $240,000 per year, WSU sources said.

“We hated to see him go, but making as much money as he’s going to make, we’re happy for him,” said Slotemaker, who had 11 points and five rebounds. “None of us would have turned it down.”

Without de la Fuente, much of the burden fell upon senior forward Carlos Daniel, who scored a season-high 25 points to go with a career-high 16 rebounds. Kojo Mensah-Bonsu added 13 points.

With a Thursday night date against fifth-ranked Arizona in the Spokane Arena looming, the Cougars (7-5) have two practices to get a jump on life without Rodrigo. It won’t be easy.

“He’s the guy who gets us driving baskets and he guards the best player on the other team,” WSU coach Kevin Eastman lamented. “Washington wouldn’t have been getting those open 3s had we had Rod.

“Rod has played a point, a two, a three and a four this year in different games. He gets us seven rebounds. He might be the leading rebounder in the country from the wing.”

Counting de la Fuente, a competitive team could be fielded from the ever-expanding pool of WSU castoffs. Donminic Ellison, Tavares Mack, Chris Scott and Ron Selleaze are among the players Eastman has lost for various reasons the last two years.

“Murphy’s Law only happens with us,” Eastman cracked.

The Cougars got little sympathy from their cross-state rivals.

Washington jumped to a 14-2 lead in the opening 5 minutes. WSU closed within 28-25 and trailed just 38-33 at the half, but Watts connected on consecutive 3-pointers as the Huskies scored the first nine points of the second half.

The lead ultimately grew to 60-43 before a flurry of late turnovers allowed the Cougars to claw as close as 74-69 with 1:05 left. WSU never gave up and ended up outrebouding the taller Huskies 35-34.

The Huskies committed 28 turnovers, compared to 23 by the Cougs.

“Things have to improve,” Watts said. “We know that coming down the stretch we didn’t execute some things. The turnovers were horrendous.”


Cowens, coach of the Charlotte Hornets, is in town for tonight’s NBA game against the Sonics. He was specifically interested in scouting Washington center Todd MacCulloch, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds despite a sluggish effort. Cowens left at halftime. … Sonics coach George Karl stayed for the duration, seated directly in front of the Huskies band in the baseline bleachers. During a timeout with 3:47 remaining, Karl drew cheers by standing and directing the band. … Former NBA center Mike Gminski, who played with Washington coach Bob Bender at Duke University and is now a color commentator for the Hornets, was also in attendance.

Washington 82, WSU 76

Washington State (7-5, 0-1) - Daniel 9-18 7-9 16, Crosby 5-8 0-0 11, Nelson 2-4 0-2 4, Pengelly 1-9 1-2 4, Kazadi 3-6 2-4 8, Hutchens 0-2 0-0 0, Mensah-Bonsu 4-7 5-6 13, Slotemaker 4-10 2-3 11. Totals 28-64 17-26 76.

Washington (8-2, 1-0) - Luton 7-11 2-3 20, Femerling 3-5 0-0 6, MacCulloch 6-10 3-4 15, Wooten 2-6 4-4 9, Watts 6-12 6-10 21, Dickau 0-1 0-0 0, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 1-4 5-8 8, Walcott 1-1 0-0 2, Green 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 26-51 21-31 82.

Halftime-Washington 38, Washington State 33. 3-Point goals-Washington State 3-10 (Slotemaker 1-1, Crosby 1-4, Pengelly 1-5), Washington 9-19 (Luton 4-7, Watts 3-4, Wooten 1-3, Johnson 1-4, Dickau 0-1). Fouled out-Crosby, Kazadi, MensahBonsu, Watts. Rebounds-Washington State 35 (Daniel 16), Washington 34 (MacCulloch 11). Assists-Washington State 8 (Pengelly 3), Washington 17 (Wooten 5). Total fouls-Washington State 23, Washington 19. A-6,406.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo