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Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 65° Partly Cloudy

Cougs, crew to be tested at Arena

It has nothing to do with the Mayans or the end of the world, but 3/19/10 has a strong connection with 12/12/09.

At least on the Washington State University calendar.

The Cougars will host the NCAA basketball tournament’s first- and second-round games in March at the Spokane Arena, so they are playing a home game today against Air Force in the building.

It’s the result of one of those rare NCAA rules that actually has some logic behind it.

“The NCAA requires you to play one game in the building the season you are going to host,” said John David Wicker, WSU’s associate athletic director for event and facility operations.

“It doesn’t have to be your game, it could be another college game, it could be a pro game, but they do like for your table crew to work it. They like to see your group in action if at all possible.”

So today’s 1 p.m. tipoff against the Falcons will serve not only as a chance for Spokane’s Cougars fans to catch their team without driving to Pullman – more than 7,000 of the 12,210 Arena seats have been sold – but also as a dress rehearsal for March’s NCAA games.

Wicker and WSU’s behind-the-scenes staff were in Spokane on Friday to meet with two NCAA representatives, going over the organization’s procedures and inspecting the hotel accommodations.

Today, the NCAA staffers and a representative of a subsidiary group will observe the game-management process.

“If there are issues that come up, they’ll let you know,” Wicker said. “For the most part, it’s kind of a formality, if you will.”

That’s because this isn’t WSU’s first time bringing the NCAAs to Spokane. The Cougars have hosted two men’s and two women’s basketball tournaments here.

“We feel we’re fairly comfortable with the requirements,” Wicker said.

Now will the Cougars, who raised their record to 7-2 with a 72-64 win over Idaho on Wednesday, be comfortable facing the Air Force Academy and its disciplined Princeton offense?

Two years ago the Falcons gave No. 9 WSU a battle, leading by four at half before falling 71-62 at the Arena. That Cougars team finished 26-9 and lost in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

Forward Grant Parker leads Air Force, which has played just one road game in building a 5-2 record, averaging 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Guard Evan Washington, who had 14 points against WSU in the previous meeting, chips in 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

“They will be a challenge,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.

Washington State is led by sophomore wing Klay Thompson, second in the nation in scoring at 25.7 per game, and sophomore post DeAngelo Casto, the Ferris High graduate who averages 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds.

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