SPOKANE -- The rivalry game between the Washington State men's basketball team and Gonzaga has gathered steam over the last few years. As Matt Bouldin said earlier this week, this is the Bulldogs biggest rivalry (topping even conference opponents like Portland and St. Mary's).
The Cougars lead the all-time series between the two squads, 97-46, but they've only won two out of the last ten meetings. Those two wins came in 2006-07 and 2007-08. GU pound WSU last year in Pullman, 74-52.
Both teams are riding high so far this season. The Zags are 5-1 (ranked 16th in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and 17th by the Associated Press), coming off a championship at the Maui Invitational (they beat Colorado, Wisconsin, and Cincinnati to win the title). Washington State is 6-0 (among "Other Receiving Votes" in both major polls), trying to keep the momentum going after a Great Alaska Shootout championship last week (they had wins over Alaska Anchorage, Nicholls State, and San Diego).
The player to watch is Washington State guard Klay Thompson. The sophomore leads the country in scoring with 28.3 points per game. He's coming off a 43 point performance against San Diego in the title game of the Great Alaska Shootout. Mark Few said earlier this week that Thompson is playing much like Stephen Curry was when GU lost to Davidson in the NCAA Tournament a couple of years ago. Limiting Thompson's chances is a must for GU.
Aside from Thompson, WSU gets its scoring from freshman guard Reggie Moore (13.5 points per game) and Ferris High School product DeAngelo Casto (12.8 ppg). As a team, the Cougs play a much different style under new head coach Ken Bone. Wazzu averages 84.7 points per contest, compared to 59.2 last season under Tony Bennett.
Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray, co-MVPs of the Maui Invitational, have the hot hand for Gonzaga. Bouldin is averaging 16.2 points and four assists per game, while Gray scores 15.8 per contest. Robert Sacre (14.3 ppg) and freshman Elias Harris (12.7) also usually score in double-figures. WSU will need to find a way to match up with Gonzaga's size if they want to compete.
The Zags opened as a 16 point favorite, but the line is now ten in favor of the Bulldogs. The last time the two teams played in the Kennel, WSU slipped past GU 51-47. It will be a much different game this season. Expect and up-tempo battle with lots of scoring and very little defense.
One last quick note: Ken Bone brought his Portland State team into McCarthey Athletic Center last year and upset the Bulldogs, 77-70. That game was played during Christmas Break, so the Kennel was pretty quiet compared to what it normally is. Bone and the Cougars will have to face a ferocious crowd tonight. I'm also guessing the Zags wouldn't mind a little redemption for what Bone did to them last season.
In summary, this game is going to be a lot of fun! Tip-off is slated for 6pm. We'll have all the highlights and postgame reaction tonight on KREM 2 News and KREM.com.
Click on the names below if you would like to hear the uncut interviews from Gonzaga practice earlier this week:
The Cougars were very limited at practice this week (and I had to call in sick yesterday), so we were unable to get preview interviews. We will have postgame interviews with them tonight though.
Enjoy the game!