PULLMAN – It’s a streak that started with a big upset. It’s continued through the changing of the coaching guard at Washington State and survived two tough games last season.
It’s reached seven games, the longest stretch of wins the Cougars have posted against archrival Washington in a series that stretches back to 1910, when James Naismith was just three years removed from coaching at Kansas.
WSU has won in routs (75-47 in Pullman two years ago) and in double overtime (76-73 at home last season). It’s won when it was ranked among the nation’s best (56-52 in Seattle last year when the Cougars were ranked fourth in the nation) and when UW was (the 78-71 streak-starting upset in 2006 when the Huskies were ranked 10th).
It’s stretched long enough that only one Cougar, senior Daven Harmeling, has tasted defeat against the Huskies. It’s stretched long enough that one of Washington’s best all-time players, senior Jon Brockman, has never tasted a victory against the Cougars.
And it will be hanging over the Huskies’ heads when they take Friel Court on Saturday afternoon for both school’s Pac-10 opener.
“As a competitor you know that’s looming over you. You want that to come to an end,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who started off 5-1 against WSU but is now 5-8. “But also, it’s our first conference game. To me, the first conference game totally, totally, by far outweighs the seven-game losing streak.
“That’s not the issue to me as much as this is a conference game.”
Maybe. But the real issue is how the heck has the streak stayed alive?
“We’ve played solid,” is how WSU coach Tony Bennett, who hasn’t lost to UW in his first two years, sees it. “We’ve controlled the tempo, made good decisions down the stretch – because there have been, certainly, some close games – and taken care of the ball.”
“We have found success playing against them,” said WSU senior point guard Taylor Rochestie, who noted the odds are not in the Cougars’ favor. “We know our system and what we’re about works.”
“Take style out of it, they have just been a smarter team,” said Brockman, UW’s leading scorer and rebounder. “They have taken care of the ball. Every single possession.
“It just comes down to playing smart, playing hard and working together and really playing basketball with all five guys out there – and it’s something they do really well.
But a big part of what WSU (8-4) has accomplished against the Huskies the past three years revolved around players who are no longer wearing crimson.
Guys such as Kyle Weaver, who had 33 points and 12 rebounds in the two games last year, and Robbie Cowgill, who scored the game-tying basket near the end of regulation and the first overtime in last season’s Pullman game.
“(It’s) hard for me to comment on the fact that Kyle, Derrick (Low) and Robbie are gone,” Romar said. “To me, you just replace players into their system and it’s their system that has been so effective. Obviously, their players have been good, too, but they are going to plug other guys into their system. They have good players still.”
One current Cougar who has enjoyed success against UW is Rochestie, the senior point guard. In his five games against the Huskies – all wins – Rochestie is averaging 13 points a game and has 15 assists against just six turnovers.
“Maybe it’s their style of play, where they kind of get up into you and make you drive and I like to drive,” said Rochestie, a 61.2 percent shooter against UW in those five games but hitting just 35.3 percent from the floor – 31.1 from behind the arc – this season. “Maybe it’s just because shots have fallen that game. I’m just fortunate enough to have played well and helped our team win.”
Bennett knows the Cougars will need more of the Rochestie of years past if they want to continue the streak.
Brockman, averaging 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game for the Huskies (9-3), doesn’t care how well his team plays. He just wants a win.
“Any time you don’t beat another team like that, lose to them seven times straight, its definitely a game that you want to win,” the senior said. “It’s something that I definitely want to accomplish before I leave here.
“That just makes me have even more respect for Wazzu and how good of a team they are.”
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