PULLMAN – They’re not exactly national championship contenders.
But in Pac-12 circles, the California Golden Bears have as much name recognition as any team on the West Coast this season.
Washington State (10-8, 2-4 Pac-12) hosts the first-place Bears (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12) at 3:05 p.m. today at Beasley Coliseum. And the Cougars don’t need to do much research to know what they’re facing.
Allen Crabbe. Jorge Gutierrez. Justin Cobbs. Harper Kamp. It’s a solid, if not star-studded, group of names. But in this year’s Pac-12, the Bears possess the kind of talent – both veteran and otherwise – that other conference teams simply don’t.
“They don’t have anybody that is just going to jump off the page and be a lottery pick,” WSU freshman guard DaVonte Lacy said. “But they’re really experienced and they’re really solid fundamentally. That’s why they’re winning a lot of games and that’s why they’re picked to go to the tournament.”
The Cougars aren’t intimidated, though, partially thanks to Thursday’s convincing win over then-first-place Stanford. WSU rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to win 81-69, fueled by a 72.7 percent second-half field-goal percentage and Faisal Aden’s career-high 33 points.
The crowd, comprised of mostly students who braved the snow and filled the seats nicely, was into it in a way it hasn’t been this season, despite the announced attendance of just 3,119.
WSU made its free throws, rotated well within its zone and made a nice adjustment in the second half that forced the Cardinal to go away from center Josh Owens, who made all eight of his field-goal tries but was limited to three shots in the second half.
It was a result the Cougars needed to see, especially after a three-game losing streak that included disheartening losses to Utah and Washington.
“It gives us hope, and I think it gives us a light at the end of the tunnel that we can win some games and we can be a really good team,” coach Ken Bone said. “But we’re going to really have to click on all cylinders most every night to do it.”
“It showed us that there are benefits for working hard,” senior guard/forward Abe Lodwick said.
Cal is coming off a 69-66 win over Washington on Thursday. The Bears are led by sophomore guard Crabbe, who is shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range and averaging 15.8 points per game. Gutierrez is a reputed defensive stalwart who also scores 14.1 points per game and leads the team in steals (24).
Senior forward Kamp provides a challenging interior presence for WSU’s thin front line, although the Bears did lose forward Richard Solomon (academics) prior to this road trip.
“Their backcourt’s good,” Bone said. “They’re very solid inside, too. That’s why they’re the No. 1 team in the conference right now. They can beat you a lot of ways, inside or outside, with their offense or with their defense. They’re good.”
WSU believes it’s good enough to beat them, although. Lacy said Thursday’s win should help prove to fans that the Cougars are capable of playing that way every night.
“Now I think everyone is going to take our word for it, finally,” Lacy said. “And, hopefully, we can keep playing like it and get some wins here, two wins in Arizona and come back home against UCLA and USC.
“We’ve got a stretch where we can go 6-0. I fully believe that we will go 6-0.”
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