As the Cougs and Huskies prepare to sqaure off this Wednesday for the biggest college basketball game this state has seen in a long time, I've only got this to say:
I GOT TICKETS THIS MORNING! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Actually, I have a few more things I want to say about it, but I just had to get that off my chest first. My dad -- who is an ardent UW fan -- and I will be in attendance for the evening's festivities. He always takes me to the Apple Cup in Seattle with his season tickets, so I figure it's time to repay the favor.
And for naysayers out there who point out that Wednesday is Valentine's Day and that I must be a bad husband, going to the game is my wife's Valentine's present to me. Remember, this is the same woman who went with me to the WSU/Texas Holiday Bowl in 2003 on our honeymoon ...
Did I mention my wife is awesome?
These two teams really are on a collision course. I'm not going to dive too deeply into the game here, because I'm going to be writing a comprehensive preview on Wednesday in advance of the contest. But it's shaping up to be an absolute war, given the tenacity with which Washington played its past two games.
Here's my take of the weekend that was ...
FIRST, THE LOCAL TEAMS
In the interest of fairness, I figure I'll start with Washington for once, since the Huskies really did have a great weekend. I didn't get a chance to catch the game against Cal, but I was able to watch the Stanford win in the midst of grading sophomore English essays, and I came away wondering two things:
- Did they pound the ball inside like that against Cal, too?
- And if they did, why the heck did it take so long?
My dad assured me that they employed the same strategy against Cal, something that I've said all along gives Washington the best chance to compete in the Pac-10. In fact, here's what I wrote after the Cougs obliterated the Huskies last time:
When Romar calls me for advice, this is what I'll tell him: Take a page out of the Cougars' book. Slow the game down. Minimize possessions. Pound the ball inside over and over again. I know a leopard doesn't change its spots, and Washington is a running team. But sometimes as a coach you have to put your team in the best position to win. They can't win this way.
Between Jon Brockman and Specner Hawes -- and given the Huskies' extremely shaky perimerter play -- there's no reason this team shouldn't have already been slowing down the tempo, limiting possessions and beating people up in the paint. And that's precisely waht they did against Stanford. Hawes got all the pub, but I'm telling you, Brockman (14 points, 10 rebounds) was the monster in that game. He absolutely set the tone, and, for once, his teammates followed.
So, what do these wins mean, tournament-wise? Well, not a lot if they go out and lose to WSU and No. 5 Pitt. Home wins over Oregon (without Aaron Brooks), Stanford and Cal are nice, but they need to pick up another quality home win and show the committtee that they can win a road game against a tough opponent -- or, at the very least, not lose by 30. That's why I expect Washington to truly come out swinging on Wednesday -- the Huskies know they're running out of time.
Meanwhile, the Cougs just keep plugging along. Two home games, two relatively easy wins over Cal and Stanford -- and a new No. 10 AP ranking to show for it, the best in school history. WSU now has held its opponent under 50 points for three consecutive games, numbers that harken back to an era of a different Bennett. The offense even showed signs of life for the first time since the Arizona win, putting together a surgically efficient second half against Cal, which tried to beat the Cougars at their own game by milking the shot clock.
Bracketology experts around the country continue to give the Cougs love -- Jerry Palm had them as a No. 3 seed before Saturday's win, and Joe Lunardi had them as a No. 3 on Sunday night. It would be great if the Cougs can continue to stay there; given their tournament inexperience, I'd like to see a first-round cupcake. (By the way, just for funsies: Lunardi has the Cougs and Zags squaring off in the second round in Sacramento if the Bulldogs can get past Virginia Tech.)
Speaking of that other Division I team to the north of Pullman, the season continues to go awry for Gonzaga. In case you missed it, two Zags -- including second-leading scorer Josh Heytvelt -- were arrested on drug charges over the weekend and have been suspended indefinitely. It didn't seem to bother the Bulldogs against St. Mary's, but the true test will come when Memphis comes to town. Heytvelt is much more valuable against quality opponents, given the versatility of his game. We'll see if the situation gains some clarity before that matchup on Saturday.
Lunardi still has the Zags in, but only ever so slightly as a No. 11 seed. They're coming dangerously close to being on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
AROUND THE PAC-10
I can't say I was terribly surprised by UCLA's road loss to West Virginia on Saturday; West Virginia is a pretty solid basketball team that has been on the fringe of the Top 25 for a while. What has surprised me in the wake of that loss, however, is how little the media seems to be mentioning that UCLA played without point guard Darren Collison. For as great as Arron Afflalo is, Collison is the one that really makes that team go. Coug fans will remember their early-season matchup with the Bruins was lost when Collison started hitting some shots and generating pressure on defense. He really is the guy that makes that team go on both ends of the floor. ...
Huge win for Arizona over Oregon. The Wildcats just about blew it, but held on for a win that suggests they are beginning to get hot at the right time. Trust me, this is a team no one will want to face come conference tournament time. Remember Chase Budinger, the freshman who seemed to have hit a wall? He had 30 points and 10 rebounds against the Ducks. ...
Conversely, Oregon definitely is heading in the wrong direction. Remember my assertion that if you control Aaron Brooks, you beat the Ducks? That's precisely what Arizona did, like UCLA and USC before it. Brooks might be watching the Pac-10 Player of the Year award slip through his fingers ...
Tough weekend for Stanford, too. This team is a bit maddening, as it now has a number of good wins and bad losses on its resume. Lundardi still has them as a No. 9 seed despite the sweep, but that's pretty low. You don't want to be facing a No. 1 seed in a potential second-round matchup.