They won’t have the support of 10,000 fans or the Golden State Warriors backcourt this time, so the Washington State Cougars will have to create other advantages against Oregon State as they open Pac-12 Conference play Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum.
When the Beavers traveled to Pullman earlier this year, their timing couldn’t have been much worse. WSU was bubbling with confidence coming off an 11-point win over No. 8 Oregon and OSU’s visit coincided with one of the most anticipated days in program history: the jersey retirement of former Cougar standout Klay Thompson. Steph Curry, Thompson’s Golden State confidant, sat in the first row as an honorary Cougar fan for the day.
Wayne Tinkle’s team wasn’t able to overcome all of that and WSU pulled away in the second half for an 89-76 victory.
Eleven months later, the Beavers will have another chance to steal a game on WSU’s home court, while the Cougars will try to protect it for the second time in 2020. Wednesday’s game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. and will air on Pac-12 Networks.
The game features two teams trying to disprove preseason expectations. The Cougars (2-0) were picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 media poll conducted last month, while the Beavers (2-0, 1-0) were picked 12th.
“They’re going to use that, as more fuel the fire, so to speak, but I promise you, we won’t finish 12th,” said Tinkle, the seventh-year OSU coach who spent part of his childhood in Spokane and graduated from Ferris High School.
In that regard, the Beavers may have already made their first statement. OSU played a conference game in its season opener, downing a California team that was picked two spots higher in the preseason poll. The Beavers routed NAIA Northwest University 114-42 in their second game on Friday.
OSU and WSU are neighbors in the preseason media poll and they entered the season with a common mission: replace an All-Pac-12 forward who accounted for a good chunk of the scoring and rebounding in 2019-20.
For the Beavers, it’s Tres Tinkle, who averaged 18.5 points per game and 6.8 rebounds last season. For the Cougars, it’s CJ Elleby, an 18.4 point-per-game scorer who averaged 7.8 rebounds.
“It’s a totally different thing, we’re going to have no fans, we had a great crowd last time,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said Tuesday. “They’re a different team, too. I think they’re in their post-Tres Tinkle era. I’ve got a chance to see them. They’ve gone an older route with transfers, junior college kids and they’re long. Really big team and good defensively.
“It’ll be a different game, different teams, obviously different atmosphere in COVID and then it’s so early in the conference season. I’m sure coach Tinkle feels the same way. It’s just awkward.”
To the surprise of few, guard Ethan Thompson has taken the torch from Tres Tinkle and leads OSU at 16.0 ppg, while adding 6.5 rpg and 4.0 apg. As Smith alluded to, OSU is also leaning on a few newcomers in 2020-21. One of those is Nicholls State transfer Warith Alatishe, who’s the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 ppg and the top rebounder at 8.5 rpg.
Without Tinkle in the fold for OSU this year, the Beavers may be more challenging to prepare for, but they also don’t look as formidable on paper. The Beavers may have the same feelings about the Cougars post-Elleby.
“It’s harder to scout, yet it was harder to beat them I would say,” Smith said. “I don’t know, we haven’t played them yet. You know where it’s coming from, but Tinkle was so good. I thought we did a good job on him and I think he had 24.”
Smith isn’t optimistic about Tony Miller’s chances of returning to the court on Wednesday, but another post player, freshman center Dishon Jackson, could make his college debut and play limited minutes against OSU.