Although it appears that the WSU Cougars will be without arguably their best player, PG Derrick Low, the "win ugly" style that has brought WSU to an 8-3 mark this season will certainly be a solid challenge for Lorenzo Romar and his UW Men's Basketball team on Saturday.
Prior to the announcement that Low would miss the game Lorenzo said of him, "I think Derrick Low is the heart and soul of their team. Coach Dick Bennett and his staff go out and get players who believe in their system and he's one of those guys. And those other guys rally around him and believe in him. He plays like a leader".
All that said, this game should be a battle between two in-state rivals and there will be a lot of emotion in play. The Cougars and Coach Bennett want this game very badly and UW could be perhaps a bit overconfident, especially with the news about Low.
The game, which will tip off at 7PM, will be a match-up of two systems that are 180% apart from one another on the basketball style-o-meter.
UW is leading the Pac-10 in scoring offense, rebounding margin and assist to turnover ratio while WSU leads the league in scoring defense. Though the Dawgs lead the league in margin of victory, WSU is a solid 4th in that department.
To make matters more perplexing, UW's stats are definitely inflated by some huge home wins against a number of cup cakes and it is very hard to judge how effective the Dawgs will play when the chips are down in this Pac-10 showcase.
The teams are very close in some very telling indications of overall efficiency. They rank 2-3 in FT%, 1-3 in FG% Defense, 1-2 in 3pt FG% Defense, 1-2 in blocked shots, 2-3 in defensive rebounds and 3-5 in 3pt FG's per game.
UW does substantially lead in the offensive rebounding category, but that stat is also a bit misleading. WSU shies away from crashing the boards, always getting back to set up in a defensive stance that makes the other team have to work very hard to beat them.
Guards Kyle Weaver and Josh Akognon will be asked to pick up the slack for the Cougars, along with SR Randy Green from Seattle's Rainier Beach High, who will likely play his best game for his friends and family. UW will have to play very efficiently on both offense and defense and avoid the lapses that have plagued them in the last half dozen or so contests.
The Cougars should hold the score down and keep it close and a large lapse could be just enough to make this game way to close down the stretch for UW's liking. Coach Romar and staff hope that they can impose their will upon WSU and score at the rate that UW has so far this year, while Bennett's plan is to do the opposite.
At the press conference at Montlake on Tuesday Lorenzo said of the way the two teams match up, "Whenever we play Washington State, we're trying to be up-tempo and they're really trying to control of the game with their system. I hope that we score 100 on them or 90, but in the past, we've been able to do okay". He went to say, "We have to be concerned with how we want to play and that's how we've always approached them."
Slender-center, 6-foot-10, 200-pound Robbie Cowgill has shown himself so far this year to be a more mature and skilled looking post player who could force UW out of the paint on offense, where they have done most of their best work of late. Overall the Cougars are a team that is not as green and inexperienced as last years team, despite losing its two big guns, SR's Thomas Kelati and Jeff Varem.
I feel that WSU is a much better team this year because they have more good players that have played together longer in the system. This is the easiest way for a team to develope chemistry and I feel that the Cougs have demonstrated some much improved chemistry and character this season.
The fact that their star guard Low is out should concern Cougar fans, but this is a system that depends more on team play than any individual efforts of its players and the depth has improved on WSU measurably.
Coach Romar went on to further illustrate his concerns by saying, "I don't care who they are or where they play, it doesn't matter. They will always have a chance to win that game". He seemed to have a good feeling about his team's understanding of the dangerous team that they face on Saturday. He went on to say about WSU, "I don't think our guys don't know. I think our guys definitely know what they're capable of doing."
To further complicate the scenario, Bobby Jones seems to have sustained a debilitating ankle sprain, which could alter the effectiveness of easily the 2nd best player on this Husky team for a considerable chunk of his final season on Montlake.
This is a guy who will not complain or ask to come out, but if he is playing at 100%, there is no better defender on the perimeter in the Pac-10.
He is also a much improved offensive player that has looked a bit off shooting and handling the ball since his injury. On Tuesday coach Romar said, "A guy that is as athletic as Bobby is, he's dependent on his athleticism so much that to do what you do on the floor, and that's taken away from you a little bit. It makes things a little more difficult."
Even though he is hampered considerably by this nagging hitch in his step, it is still a huge advantage for Bobby to be in the line-up for UW. The coaches are being forced to adjust the way he is played however as Romar explained, "We've tried not to match him up with a speedy guy because you have to start and stop a lot. It depends on who the other team's best player is."
Overall I look for this one to be a very hard fought game which UW could win going away, if they play a focused and urgent 40 minutes, but could easily find themselves on the wrong end of a close one with this well disciplined and hungry pack of Cougs.