LAS VEGAS – Let’s try this again.
Washington State and Arizona State were scheduled to meet 363 days ago in a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. As more information came forth about an airborne virus known as COVID-19, however, tournament coordinators shut the event down hours before the Cougars and Sun Devils could arrive at T-Mobile Arena for a pregame shootaround.
Consider this WSU vs. ASU in Vegas, Part II.
With hundreds of new COVID-19 cases surfacing almost every day, and dozens of restaurants, bars and shops on the Las Vegas Strip still closed, the virus is still a subject of grave concern in Sin City. But the Pac-12, using enhanced safety protocols and limiting fan attendance, is still moving forward with this week’s 11-team tournament – it hopes this time without any interruption.
The ninth-seeded Cougars (14-12) and eighth-seeded Sun Devils (10-13) will be the opening act of this week’s tournament at T-Mobile Arena, kicking off the four-day event on Wednesday with a 1 p.m. tipoff.
“Ironically, last year’s was canceled and we were waiting to play ASU,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “So, kind of funny how a year later we have this opportunity.”
WSU and ASU have had three games scrapped within the past year and would’ve played a makeup regular-season game earlier this week in Vegas had both sides agreed to it. Initially, the Cougars and Sun Devils had a Dec. 31 game in Pullman canceled because of COVID-19 developments at ASU. When the teams were scheduled to replay that game March 1 in Tempe, Arizona, it was called off an hour before tipoff because someone in WSU’s traveling party had tested positive for the virus.
Still, the most recent game the Cougars played was a 77-74 overtime loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe. In many ways, Bobby Hurley’s program is the only one WSU’s staff has had to think about and plan for since Feb. 27.
“We’ve got our fill of ASU,” Smith said. “We were hoping to play them (March 1) , to be honest. … That would’ve been a nice little three in a row to do it, be like an NBA series. We used some time to try to go short but intense and polish up our fundamentals. If we do get by ASU, we’re going to play some other teams with different styles. So, just keep getting better, and hopefully we have another tournament after this one.”
Point guard Isaac Bonton, who was named to the All-Pac-12 second team on Tuesday, has been practicing with the Cougars and took part in a short session on Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena. Bonton has missed four of the past five games while dealing with sprained ankles, but the Portland native is expected to play in some capacity on Wednesday.
“He’s practiced this week. I’m anticipating him giving it a go,” Smith said of Bonton, who was fourth in the Pac-12 at 17.7 points per game this season and led the conference in steals at 1.9 per game. “It’s whether he starts or bring him off the bench, whatever he’s comfortable with. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to play more than 15-20 minutes, but it’ll be nice to have him out there.”
Smith indicated the Sun Devils would be a different team with Marcus Bagley back in the mix, but even after logging 20 minutes in a loss to Colorado, the freshman forward won’t be available in the Pac-12 Tournament, Hurley told reporters on Tuesday.
Josh Christopher, a five-star recruit who was considered the nation’s third-ranked shooting guard coming out of high school, hasn’t played for the Sun Devils in nearly a month and isn’t expected to play against the Cougars despite traveling to Vegas.
According to Smith, the COVID-19 problems that derailed WSU’s second game in Tempe didn’t keep any members of the team from traveling to Las Vegas.
Tony Miller, who’s been away from the team for personal reasons, and Carlos Rosario, who has a non-COVID-19 medical condition that’s kept him from traveling with the team, were the only Cougars who didn’t make the trip.
“We’re as healthy as we can be,” Smith said. “We’re in pretty good shape, that’s the best way I can put it. It won’t be an excuse for us. Not playing in 11 days is tricky. You never know how your team’s going to be.”
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