After suffering a double-overtime, three-point defeat last year at Washington State, the Huskies have proven they can handle the noise at Friel Court. And with winter break still in full swing on the Wazzu campus, the Huskies will likely face a less-than-capacity student section and should be able to do something they haven’t done since Jon Brockman was in high school: beat the Cougs.
Point guard: Isaiah Thomas (UW) vs. Taylor Rochestie (WSU). While the freshman Thomas has outscored the senior Rochestie so far (14.8 PPG for Thomas, to Rochestie’s 10.2 PPG), Rochestie has posted better numbers in nearly every other essential stat category. The heart and soul of this Cougar team, Rochestie has recorded a better assistant-to-turnover ratio and hauled in more rebounds than Thomas, while coming on as of late with three consecutive double-digit scoring games.
Thomas, meanwhile, is coming off a career-high 27 points in Tuesday’s game against Morgan State. The Husky frosh is quickly becoming the team’s second option behind Jon Brockman and is an early frontrunner for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Edge: Push.
Shooting guard: Justin Dentmon (UW) vs. Klay Thompson (WSU). The senior Dentmon has quietly put together a decent beginning to his final collegiate season. Despite a three-year tenure marred by inconsistency, J.D. has stepped up and recorded nice numbers for a ballclub in need of a leader to take pressure off Brockman. With 12.4 PPG and 2.6 APG, Dentmon has outproduced his counterpart Thompson in every essential category except rebounding, where the 6’6″ Cougar holds a 5.1-to-2.7 RPG advantage.
Thompson, a freshman who is as heralded a newcomer as the Cougs have ever had, is the son of former Los Angeles Laker Mychal Thompson and has NBA potential. So far, the first-year Coug has contributed 11.0 PPG, good for second on the team behind Aron Baynes, and has emerged as a go-to option on the offensive end. If nothing else, the freshman will hold a considerable size advantage over the 5’10” Dentmon, though contending with Dentmon’s quickness may be an issue for the youngster. Edge: Washington.
Small Forward: Quincy Pondexter (UW) vs. Daven Harmeling (WSU). The junior Pondexter has spent the first part of this season continuing a trend two years in the making. Nothing if not an enigma, the talented forward has been as inconsistent as anyone on the team and has done nothing to warrant the hype that preceded his venture to Montlake back in 2006. After recording a season-high 21 points against Portland State on December 14th, Q-Pon has followed up his most brilliant performance of the year with three straight duds resulting in 3 points, 4 points, and 4 points again. Averages of 8.8 PPG, 2.2 APG, and 5.7 RPG give him the statistical edge in all categories over his opponent.
Harmeling, who would be a decent bench option on a better team, has become a full-time starter for a Washington State team that prides itself on defense. The 6’7″ senior can step back and hit the three, but has trouble getting to the rim. With 7.3 PPG, 0.8 APG, and 1.8 RPG, Harmeling’s value is as a steadying presence on the court and he should likely concede stats to Pondexter in this contest. Edge: Washington.
Power Forward: Jon Brockman (UW) vs. Aron Baynes (WSU). A heavyweight matchup of powerful bigs that has resulted in an interesting power struggle over the previous three seasons that, if nothing else, is fun to watch. The 7-footer Baynes is the Cougars go-to presence inside and has proven valuable in slowing Brockman’s game over the past six matchups. As his team’s leading scorer with 11.4 PPG, the towering Aussie will undoubtedly create problems for a Washington defense unaccustomed to slowing down big guys.
Brockman (16.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG), like Baynes, will play a physical style underneath that will create problems for the Washington State defense. Despite giving up five inches in height to his Cougar counterpart, Big Jon should have no problem putting up his usual double-double averages as the Huskies look to pound it inside on the Wazzu defenders. Edge: Washington.
Third forward: Darnell Gant (UW) vs. Caleb Forrest (WSU). Gant and Forrest, despite bearing no physical resemblance to one another, are starters for the exact same reasons. Both are hardworking, scrappy players that have earned their roles due to sweat and effort. Neither are considered prolific scorers, neither pull in an obscene number of rebounds, and neither really do any one thing particularly well. But each player has earned the respect of his coach, leading to an opportunity to start ballgames and provide energy when needed to each of the respective teams.
Gant (3.8 PPG, 0.4 APG, 4.2 RPG), a redshirt freshman, has yet to record double figures scoring in his short career, and is little more than an afterthought on the offensive end. Forrest (6.2 PPG, 0.3 APG, 3.3 RPG) a savvy veteran in his senior season, can contribute inside and outside on offense and has even been known to attempt a three-pointer now and again. While both players stand 6’8″, Gant’s length should create a disruptive atmosphere on the defensive interior and disallow Forrest to play a role in the paint. With his ability to stretch the floor, however, Forrest should provide more value to his team in the long run of this one. Edge: Washington State.
Sixth man: Matthew Bryan-Amaning (UW) vs. Nikola Koprivica (WSU). Koprivica, a junior shooting guard, has become a key contributor off the bench for this year’s Cougars. After a disappointing sophomore season in which he averaged only 11 minutes per game, the third-year player has seen that number swell to over 25 MPG this year as his role has expanded. The 6’6″ Serbian is a three-point threat that can bust a zone defense and will allow the Washington State interior players to get reps on the block by extending the Husky defenders.
Bryan-Amaning, a 6’9″ sophomore, is everything but a starter for UW. The bruising forward has been a fantastic complement to Brockman’s physical style of play, and should provide severe matchup problems for a Cougar team with only one true big man in Aron Baynes. In tandem with Brockman, expect MBA to get his share of mop-up points off rebounds, and look for him to display his hook shot against the much taller Baynes. Edge: Washington.
Outcome: Washington breaks down a stifling Cougar defense to the tune of a 65-59 Husky victory.