UW (13-8, 5-3 Pac-12) are expecting leading scorer DaVonte Lacy to return from injury for Washington State (8-12, 1-7) Saturday at 3 p.m. in the 278th meeting of Dawgs and Cougs. But, as C.J. Wilcox says, “it’s about how we handle our business.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
PULLMAN, Wash. – Two of the toughest parts of playing at Washington State?
Getting here in winter.
And once here, Coug students do their homework.
Pilots flying the Huskies from Seattle tried twice to land at Pullman’s tiny, fog-bound airport Friday before diverting about 45 minutes east and landing in Lewiston, Idaho. The Dawgs then bused from there to Beasley Coliseum for a later-than-planned, 9:30 p.m. practice.
The flight delay must have thrown off the WSU students who usually wait in the dark and cold outside Beasley Coliseum to heckle the Huskies on their way in for practice on the eve of games here. None showed up Friday night. So the Dawgs had a mini, intersquad snowball skirmish on their way into the arena instead.
Inside Beasley is where WSU students have chanted personal barbs at Nate Robinson through Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and any other Husky that’s worn a dark, road jersey over the last dozen years. The “ZZU Crew” along the sideline opposite UW’s bench here often sounds like it knows as much about the archrivals from the other side of the state as they do their Cougars.
“It’s always a challenge playing at Wazzu,” Huskies senior leading scorer C.J. Wilcox said with a wry grin.
“The fans, they’ve usually done a background check on all the players, so they know how to get under people’s skin.”
But what could WSU’s students razz Wilcox about here on Saturday, beginning at 3 p.m. when Washington (13-8, 5-3 Pac-12) tries to reach second place in the conference at last-place Washington State (8-12, 1-7)? The 278th men’s basketball meeting of Huskies and Cougars will be on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the official game chat and free live streaming of the radio broadcast.
Might they yell “Screw in your foot!”, to reference the leftover hardware remaining from Wilcox’s surgery last spring to repair a stress fracture?
Or maybe “N-B-A?”; a reference to him passing up last summer’s pro draft to return for a fifth and final season at UW?
Yes, there’s not much about which to roast Wilcox. Not only is the captain from aptly named Pleasant Grove, Utah, one of the most mild-mannered and respected rivals to play on WSU’s Friel Court in years, he is second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.6 points per game. He is one of three players all-time in the Pac-12 to score 1,700 points on 275 made 3-point shots with 400 career rebounds; Jason Kapono did it at UCLA from 2000-03, at the same time Jason Gardner did it for Arizona.
Last week in the Huskies’ home rally to beat Oregon State, Wilcox became the eighth player in UW history to record 1,700 points, passing Eldridge Recasner on the school’s career scoring list. Wilcox is the only man in Pac-12 play this season shooting 50 percent or better from the field with at least 100 attempts. One of his nine games with 20 or more points this season came on Jan. 4 at top-ranked Arizona, inside the raucous McKale Center in Tucson.
So, no, Wilcox's fourth and final career game here Saturday won’t faze him any more than the first three did. No matter what that students’ section comes up with.
“For me, it’s a fun environment to play in. It’s a lot of energy for us to feed off of, as well as Wazzu,” Wilcox said. “It just makes for a good game, a real fun game.”
The Huskies have beaten the Cougars six consecutive times, coach Lorenzo Romar repeatedly besting his good friend Ken Bone, his former top assistant at UW. That includes three wins for the Huskies over WSU last season. But each one -- in Pullman, in Seattle and in Las Vegas to begin the Pac-12 tournament last March – were, as Romar put it this week, “fights.”
This latest scrap between Dawgs and cats could get a lot tougher if Washington State’s leading scorer DaVonte Lacy returns from injury. Lacy, averaging 17.7 points per game, hasn’t played since Jan. 5 because of a cartilage tear in his ribs. Bone said this week he was hopeful the man through whom all of WSU’s offense flows will play against the Huskies.
Romar and Wilcox said the Dawgs are preparing as if Lacy will play.
Romar sees Washington State as a better defensive team than it was last year, but it has had major issues trying to score. On the same Jan. 2 night that Washington won at Arizona State, WSU managed just seven points in the first half of a 60-25 loss at Arizona. (Two days later UW led Arizona in Tucson by six with 16 minutes left before losing 71-62.)
WSU has averaged just 49.1 points per game through eight league games. Romar sees the Cougars’ offensive troubles being solely because Lacy’s been hurt.
“The leading scorer is out, but somehow people think you are still supposed to score and be the same,” Romar said. “They’re not the same. The guy’s out. He’s their leading scorer. So it makes it more difficult.”
If Lacy plays, this Saturday could be even more difficult for UW.
“We’ll prepare for him,” Wilcox said. “But like always it’s about how we handle our business.
“Against us, their rivals, I think they will be ready to go. They think it can turn their season around. So we definitely have to be ready and prepared for their best shot.”
Romar and his staff learned a ton about their team’s resiliency in UW’s last game, the rally from 12 points down with 18 minutes left to beat Oregon State at home last Saturday. Nigel Williams-Goss scored 32 points, a Huskies freshman record.
Now the Dawgs have their last-place rivals standing between them and a 6-3 league record halfway through conference play.
“We will learn a lot about our team and where we are at based on our approach for this game,” Romar said, indicating that Saturday’s first 10-15 minutes will be key for his players.
“If they come in with the right mindset that will tell us a lot.”