PULLMAN — The most remote outpost in the Pac-12 Conference is also its most disgruntled this season.
There’s no getting around it: The Washington State men’s basketball team, at 1-7 in Pac-12 play this season, is not playing very well, and some of that has to do with the loss of leading scorer DaVonté Lacy to a rib injury.
There’s a chance the former Curtis High School standout could return Saturday, when the Washington Huskies visit Beasley Coliseum for a 3 p.m. tipoff that will conclude the first half of the Pac-12 schedule.
Whether Lacy plays, UW coach Lorenzo Romar knows this has the makings of a trap game for the Huskies (13-8, 5-3).
Even if UW and WSU are playing second fiddle to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this weekend when it comes to the interest of area sports fans, it’s still a heated series that tends to yield close results.
“We played Washington State three times last year, and none of those games were easy,” Romar said Thursday.
“When we play them, it’s usually tough, and that’s what we expect. I’m sure DaVonté Lacy will be back, and that will give them a shot in the arm. They’ll be fired up. I’m sure it’ll be a very competitive game.”
There have been too few of those for the Cougars (8-12, 1-7) this season, especially since conference play began. Their first game was a 35-point loss at Arizona in which they scored only 25 points. WSU has since lost four games by 19 or more points. Sunday against Oregon, which ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, the Cougars shot 25 percent from the field in a 71-44 defeat.
So, yeah, things aren’t going too well. WSU coach Ken Bone expected his personnel to be a little different, though Lacy’s injury and the preseason dismissal of community-college transfer point guard Danny Lawhorn haven’t helped.
“I felt back in the summer and early in the fall like our strength was going to be our core group of guards, and felt really good about the depth of our guards,” Bone said. “When Danny departed and now DaVonté’s been injured for a few games, it’s much different.”
Still, the Huskies anticipate an energized WSU team with its sights set on turning its season around by knocking off its rival.
“When you’re playing teams that are on a slide, every time you play them you know that they want that game to be the one to get them going,” UW senior guard C.J. Wilcox said. “Playing against us, their rivals, they’ll be ready to go.”
UW can position itself for a run at the top third of the conference standings with a victory. The Huskies are tied for third place and could head into the second half of Pac-12 play with a 6-3 record and five of their final nine games at home.
They must get past the Cougars first.
“We will learn a lot about our team and where we’re at based on our approach to that game,” Romar said, saying he already learned a fair amount watching the Huskies rally from a 12-point deficit against Oregon State last week.
“I don’t see any other reason it won’t be a fight this time,” Romar said. “If our guys can come in — I didn’t say win, lose, what the score’s going to be — if we can come in with the right mindset, that will tell us a lot about our team.”
Washington (13-8, 5-3 Pac-12 conference) at Washington State (8-12, 1-7)
3 p.m., Beasley Coliseum, Pullman
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 950-AM, 710-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 177-100.
Scouting report: WSU’s chances of snapping its four-game losing streak will increase greatly if injured guard DaVonté Lacy can play. Coach Ken Bone said earlier this week that there’s a chance the former Curtis High School standout could return from the rib injury that kept him out the past six games (and that was after he missed two games because of an appendix issue). Without him, the Cougars have been more or less inept offensively, averaging 49.4 points a game in the seven Pac-12 games he has missed. ... The Cougars rank last in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage, scoring offense and free-throw percentage, and rank 10th in 3-point shooting percentage. They rank 11th in field-goal percentage defense. ... UW has won six consecutive games in the series.
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