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Grip on Sports: Another loss to Washington illustrates where the Cougar basketball fortunes lie these days

Washington guard Matisse Thybulle (4) drives between Washington State forward Robert Franks, left, and guard Milan Acquaah, right, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Washington guard Matisse Thybulle (4) drives between Washington State forward Robert Franks, left, and guard Milan Acquaah, right, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • A family member asked me last night after dinner what there was to write about today. He thought it was a virtual desert out there. Ha. There are always the Cougars’ basketball troubles. Read on.

••••••••••

• We’ve written about this before, but someday Washington State is going to have successful football and basketball programs at the same time. Not now, of course. But someday.

Then Cougar fans can take to social media and complain track isn’t what it was under John Chaplin. After all, being a fan of most college sports programs is mainly about complaining.

Right now basketball is what WSU fans complain about. And rightfully so. The school has such a rich tradition of success.

There was the mythical national championship season of 1916-17. There was that one year, just before World War II, when the Cougars were in the NCAA title game. And that other time when they won 20 games. There have actually been almost 10 times when they’ve won 20 games since WWII, so there.

A veritable basketball powerhouse. Every 20 years or so, the Cougars are ticketed to the NCAA tournament.

That doesn’t make this year – or the past few years – any easier to take. Washington State’s 6-0 start is long gone, but it does have a tournament trophy (from the Wooden Classic) to show for it. An Apple Cup victory? Nope, not this season.

Last night’s 80-62 loss in Seattle assured that. It also assured the Huskies of at least a break-even regular season. And assured Cougar fans would gag on their morning coffee (not Starbucks because, you know, the Sonics).

Washington was awful last season. So bad Lorenzo Romar lost his job with one of the nation’s best recruiting class waiting in the wings. So bad the Huskies lost twice to WSU. So bad no current head coach seemed to want the job.

And now? The Huskies are thinking about the NCAA tournament. They are still a longshot, but under first-year head coach Mike Hopkins, a long-time Syracuse assistant, they are in the conversation.

And that has to gall Cougar fans.

Ernie Kent, in his fourth season, hasn’t had any single one like Hopkins is having this season.

The best Kent’s Cougars have done is 13 wins. They may get there again this year but it’s doubtful. WSU is 9-11 overall but just 1-7 in Pac-12 play, making Kent’s Cougar squads 15-48 in conference – and 44-69 overall.

And there doesn’t look to be much change in sight.

Kent has a long-term contract, one with a built-in rollover clause that former athletic director Bill Moos consistently ignited after each year. Now it may burn his predecessor, Patrick Chun. Which is ironic.

When Moos took over, he was a constant critic of the contract Jim Sterk left him with concerning then basketball coach Ken Bone. It was so expensive to make a change, Moos couldn’t even if he wanted to. And yet he did the same to Chun.

In 2006, the Cougars finished the season 11-17 overall. They were 4-14 in the Pac-10. Included in a seven-game losing streak to end the season was a 30-point loss at Oregon, coached by Ernie Kent.

The next season they were 26-8. So it can happen. Washington State proved it could go from 0 to 60 in one season. All it took was a special class of juniors and the elevation of one of the best basketball coaches in America to the top spot (though few knew it at the time).

That’s not happening again. Not in Pullman. Not now.

•••

WSU: Theo Lawson was in Seattle last night and he has the coverage of Washington’s win. … There are also a lot of stories to pass along from the Puget Sound media as the Huskies raised their record to 15-6. … Luke Falk and Cole Madison earned high marks for their Senior Bowl week. … I don’t read the Washington Post every day, but I wished I had yesterday. Then I wouldn’t have missed this story on Tyler Hilinski’s funeral. Don’t you miss it today. … The women lost at home to UCLA. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, USC handed California another conference defeat and kept its winning streak alive. … Utah split in the desert and the Utes thought they could have swept. Maybe should have.

Gonzaga: This year’s squad isn’t as consistent as Mark Few would like. That was illustrated dramatically Saturday night. Jim Meehan follows up on the win over USF. … The future will include a Southern California guard. Jim has that story as well. … Around the WCC, Elijah Bryant will lead BYU into the Kennel later this week.

Chiefs: Spokane yielded the tying goal in the final minute both nights this weekend and lost both road contests. Last night it was 6-5 in Everett to the Silvertips.

Indians: Former manager Moose Stubing died recently. Jim Price has his obituary.

Seahawks: Maybe this is why Ken Norton is back in Seattle. … Is it time for Seattle to say goodbye to Earl Thomas? … The Pro Bowl was yesterday if you missed it.

•••       

• Can you believe it? January is almost over. Heck, you can see spring over that hill there. It won’t be long now. Of course, February has a way of biting back, using cold, snow and fog to make our days miserable. No matter. It’s only 28 days long this year. A piece of cake. Until later …

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