SEATTLE – Since Washington State University began playing a yearly non-conference basketball game in Seattle’s KeyArena, the Cougars have found a way to win.
But none of the first four foes have presented the challenge tonight’s opponent, Louisiana State University, poses.
The Tigers, coached by former Stanford head coach Trent Johnson, are 8-2. They attack the glass aggressively, grabbing 39 rebounds a game, almost eight more than their opponents. They’re athletic, fast and strong, befitting a Southeastern Conference team.
And they should be confident, having waxed the Cougars 64-52 a year ago in Baton Rouge.
“They’re a big, physical team,” said WSU freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who will become the first player from Seattle to play for WSU in the Cougar Hardwood Classic. “They’re going to be a tough team.”
But the Tigers have their weaknesses as well.
The offense revolves around three players, 6-foot-7 senior forward Tasmin Mitchell, junior guard Bo Spencer and sophomore forward Storm Warren. All average more than 15 points a game, led by Mitchell’s 17.2.
“As everybody knows, Tasmin Mitchell is a good player,” Moore said. “We’ve just got to try to slow him down.”
But no other LSU player is averaging more than 4.5 points a game, including freshman guard Aaron Dotson (3.3), making his first trip back home after starring for Seattle’s Rainier Beach High.
Dotson has started nine times for the Tigers, but has struggled shooting the ball. He’s hitting just 26.8 percent from the floor, including a woeful 3 of 28 beyond the arc.
Two years ago, Dotson teamed with Moore to help the Vikings win the State 3A title.
“It’ll be a nice, friendly battle,” said Moore, who added he is splitting the Rainier Beach ticket duties with his old teammate.
Though Dotson went across the country to play his college basketball, and Moore, who spent a season at a prep school in New Hampshire, went across the state, here they are meeting as freshmen in Seattle’s basketball venue.
“It’s a little funny,” Moore said of the circumstances. “It seems like some things are meant to be.”
Just like Moore blossoming under WSU first year head coach Ken Bone. A late signee – Moore originally signed with Fresno State, but went to prep school instead – after Bone took over as head coach, Moore won the point guard spot in fall practice.
He directs an offense that is averaging almost 81 points a game, leading the Cougars (9-2) in assists with 57. Twenty-two of those have come in the last two games, with Moore setting career highs in each.
“I’m starting to realize where guys are on the court as we play together,” he said. “Certain guys like to go to certain spots and certain guys like to catch the ball certain ways.”
With Moore at the controls, Washington State has found its rhythm offensively, shooting 50.8 percent from the floor – eighth in the nation – and 44.4 percent from 3-point range – third nationally – including a school-record 13 of 16 against Portland State Saturday.
Klay Thompson leads the way, averaging 24.9 points per game, third best in the nation and tops in the Pac-10, while grabbing 5.3 rebounds.
Moore is the Cougars’ second-leading scorer, at 12.6 points per game, while sophomore post DeAngelo Casto chips in 10.5 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds.
Four other Cougars average better than 4.3 points a game, paced by Nik Koprivica (8.1), who scored a career-high 23 against Portland State.
Tonight will be the Cougars’ final non-conference contest. They will open Pac-10 play at home on New Year’s Eve against Oregon.