Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apple Cup preview on the hardwood!

By Kshell

The #18 Washington Huskies(15-4,7-1) travel to Pullman this Sunday to take on the Washington State Cougars(14-6,4-4) in a very important Pac-10 game for both teams. This game is important for both teams for two very different reasons. For the Washington Huskies this game is important to keep their one game lead over the Arizona Wildcats. The Huskies are seeking their second conference championship in three seasons. For the Cougars this game is important to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. The Cougars have missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. The Huskies head into this rivalry with a four game winning streak over the Cougars which features players who have plenty of experience in this big game.

For the Cougars the experience in this Apple Cup series hasn't been very kind to them. The Cougars don't have a single player on their current roster who has ever beaten the Huskies. In fact their best players have typically had poor games against the Washington Huskies. The Cougars are led by super Junior Klay Thompson who is having a monster season. Thompson this year is averaging 22.2 points per game, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 46.2% from the field. He is also averaging 1.9 steals a game and 1.1 blocks per game. There is a reason why Thompson's name often comes up for Pac-10 player of the year talk. Thompson has been terrific as a Cougar but in the apple cup he has been dreadful. Thompson has scored just 29 points(7.3 points per game) while shooting 10-47(21.2%) from the field. For the Cougars to pull off the upset and keep their tourney hopes alive they must get a better game out of Thompson. Thompson is the only Cougar who has struggled against the Huskies.

No Cougar on this current roster has tasted success against the Huskies. DeAngelo Casto had a big game against the Huskies in a 59-52 loss in Pullman last season. Casto in that game scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds while shooting 8-16 from the field. That was a good game for Casto unfortunately for him in his previous three apple cups he scored just 14 points(4.7 points per game) while grabbing just two rebounds a game. Marcus Capers in his freshman year didn't score a single point against the Huskies. As a sophomore he scored just 11 points while shooting 4-13(30.7%) in two games. Another Cougar who struggles was Reggie Moore who being from Seattle didn't make Lorenzo Romar regret not recruiting him. Moore in his first apple cup in Seattle scored 13 points on three for nine shooting but also turned the ball over eight times. In the rematch in Pullman Moore shot one for eight while scoring eight points but once again turned the ball over four times. The Cougars are trying to reverse a trend from the past two seasons against the Huskies who feature the same prominent players.

For the Huskies who have enjoyed great success over the Cougars the last two years have seen some major stars graduate. No longer is Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon and Quincy Pondexter around to help dominate the Cougars. It was only just two years ago the Huskies had to defeat their own demons snapping a seven game losing streak to the Cougars which spanned three years. The Huskies still feature plenty of older guys who have played plenty of games against the Cougars. This Huskies roster is an experienced group which features three Seniors and three Juniors. The Huskies will have three players making their apple cup debut but for the most part this is a veteran group.

The Husky who has had the most success against the Cougars is Isaiah Thomas who has success against everyone. Thomas like Thompson is a Pac-10 player of the year candidate averaging 16.9 points per game, dishing out 5.8 assists and grabbing 3.9 rebounds a game. Thomas is shooting 46.4% from the field on the year while getting 1.4 steals a game. Thomas in Pac-10 play has been lights out though averaging 18.5 points per game while dishing out 8.4 assists per game. Thomas has also shot 45-94(47.8%) from the field which shows he is having better shot selection. Thomas is playing his best ball of his career and against the Cougars has destroyed them in the past. In four career games which are all wins Thomas has scored 66 points(16.5 per game) while shooting 20-48(41.7%) from the field. Last year in Pullman Thomas scored 22 points on 7-15 shooting to help the Huskies keep their lead against the Cougars and prevent a second half collapse. Although they play different positions Thomas has emerged over Thompson in the four apple cup meetings which could play a role in determing the conference player of the year.

Other Huskies have had some success against the Cougars in a single game but overall not much success. Matthew Bryan-Amaning who started his great play last year had a big game in Pullman. Bryan-Amaning scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while shooting 8-11 from the floor. Bryan-Amaning against the Cougars in Seattle which the Huskies won 92-64 scored nine points on four for six shooting. He out played Casto both games last season and has played great so far this year. Bryan-Amaning is averaging 16.2 points per game while grabbing 7.7 rebounds a game. He is also shooting 58.9% from the floor while blocking 1.4 shots a game. In Pac-10 play Bryan-Amaning has simply been dominating averaging 19.3 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. He is also shooting 62 for 101(61.4%) from the field in Pac-10 play. Whoever wins the Bryan-Amaning/Casto matchup could determine the winner on Sunday.

Two other Huskies have had mixed results when playing the Cougars. First of all is Justin Holiday who has scored just 11 points (2.8 points per game) in the last four games against the Cougars which isn't good. Then you factor in Holiday wasn't much of a scorer before this season and that makes sense. Holiday also in the blowout game in Seattle grabbed 10 rebounds. As a sophomore he shot a perfect three for three against the Cougars helping the Huskies capture the Pac-10 championship. Holiday is a big reason why Klay Thompson has struggled so much. Another player is Venoy Overton who against the Cougars in Seattle had six points and seven assists last year and was a big reason for Reggie Moore turning the ball over eight times. Overton was huge in the Huskies 67-60 win over the Cougars two years ago that clinched the Pac-10 regular season title scoring 14 poitns on three for five shooting. The Huskies need more from Overton and Holiday if they expect to win in a tough hostile environment.

Lorenzo Romar will be facing off with good friend Ken Bone who Romar has never lost to. Romar is 5-0(3-0 when Bone was at Portland State, 2-0 at WSU) all-time against Ken Bone. Romar has seen this rivalry have it's ups and downs. While at Washington Romar 9-8 all-time against the Cougars. Romar is currently on a four game winning streak against the Cougars after suffering seven straight losses to the Cougars which was coming off a four game winning streak against the Cougars. In fact these teams haven't split a season series since Romar's first year in 2002-03 season. Typically one team has the upper hand for a few years at a time.

This game is pretty important for both teams. For the Cougars a possible NCAA tournament berth is at stake. For the Huskies a possible Pac-10 championship is on the line. If the Huskies win Sunday at Pullman it would appear they would be favored in eight of their remaining nine games by a big margain. Also you have the individual wars between Isaiah Thomas against Klay Thompson who are both going for best player in the conference. Both players have given the other team bulletin board material. First Thompson said Derrick Williams is the best player in the conference over Thomas. Thomas later in the week dissed on Pullman wondering why anyone would ever go there. I'm sure Pullman will lay into Thomas and Overton on Sunday. Then you have the big man battle between Matthew Bryan-Amaning and DeAngelo Casto. All these matchups between two pretty good teams. You can tell this isn't football anymore as both teams haven plenty to play for. Just remember there is a rematch in Seattle which should be fun. The atmosphere will be great in Pullman this Sunday. This game is a huge game for both teams for two very different reasons.

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