Ever since Gonzaga rose to the cream of the Washington crop, the other schools from the Evergreen State haven't been too fond of the Bulldogs. Still, year in and year out, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Washington State Cougars met every year to keep the eastern Washington rivalry alive.
Things are a bit more heated now. The Cougars hate the Gonzaga with a bit more justifiable passion now after the scheduling drama that took place over the summer. For the Cougars, will that extra bit of motivation, the feeling of being the doormat and then being treated like one, be enough to help them compete against Gonzaga? Washington State has some things going for it, but are also still trying to gel under head coach Ernie Kent's first year in Pullman.
Gonzaga, on the other hand, still has everything to prove. The Bulldogs went neck and neck with Arizona for the better part of 40 minutes but eventually fell in overtime. It is easy to look past the Cougars and on to the game against UCLA on Saturday. This isn't the game to look past. Sure, Gonzaga has won the last three matchups, but only one of those wins was convincing (last year). In 2010, the Cougars absolutely blew the Zags out of the water. These in-state rivalry games have a way of staying close, and there is no reason to expect it'll be any different this time around.
Meet the opponent
Washington State Cougars, 4-4, KenPom #216
The main person to watch out for is senior winger DaVonte Lacy. Say what disparging remarks you will about the Cougars as a team overall, but they always seem to have at least one of the more dangerous players in the Pac-12 lurking about. Lacy is that go to guy this year. He holds an offensive rating of 112.1 and sees the ball a majority of the time -- close to 27 percent when he is on the floor. He is averaging 18.6 points per game, good for third in the Pac-12. Lacy can score in droves as well. He has already scored 31 points in two different games this season, including the Cougars last game against Texas-San Antonio. In that box score, Lacy went 8-for-12 from beyond the arc. Gonzaga needs to slow him down.
Sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson is the main man down low and the poor sap who will have to hold the line against Gonzaga's front line. The Bulldogs will be Hawkinson's biggest test of the season and up until now he has done a stellar job. Hawkinson has logged four double-doubles en route to an average of 13.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Washington State is coming off a game where they shot the ball from the three point line incredibly well. Before that, Washington State shot the ball from the three point line like complete garbage. The Cougars are one of those teams that some days lives and dies by the three. As a team, 41.5 percent of their shot attempts come from beyond the arc. Gonzaga's achilles heel in previous seasons was always perimeter defense. Last year, the Zags seemed to lock that down a bit more and have continued that play this season.
What to watch out for
Are the Zags focused on this game?
As stated earlier, it is really easy to forget that the Zags were playing the Cougars this year. The game just happened to be sandwiched between the two biggest games in the non-conference. The Bulldogs have looked pretty focused on every game so far this season, as judged by 50 point whompings of opponents and not slipping up to a surprisingly tough St. John's squad. I don't think this will be an issue, but considering the gut-punch loss to Arizona on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond.
Can Domantas Sabonis figure out how to stay on the floor?
It shouldn't be much of a surprise that Domantas Sabonis is needing a bit of a learning curve when it comes to fouling over here. Przemek Karnowski went through the exact same growing pains. Sabonis has had some fantastic games that would be even more fantastic if he weren't picking up fouls and such quick clips. The freshman forward averages 3.1 fouls per game, despite being on the court for 19.5 minutes. This is something that should hopefully progress in a healthy fashion as the year goes on. If Sabonis is sitting on the bench, much of Gonzaga's front court advantage over other teams goes with it.
Can Kevin Pangos get back on track?
Remember, this is how Kevin Pangos introduced himself to the world.
Pangos dropped nine threes on the Cougars in his second collegiate game, scoring 33 points in the process. That career high held for a couple of years until he surpassed it by one point. Pangos opened the season like a champ, but he has had a couple of middling to meh games his past couple of times on the court. Against Arizona, the shot just wasn't there and he was limited to 3-of-10 shooting and turned the ball over a season-high four times. That is OK, since Arizona's defense is one of the nation's best. Pangos has been very quietly leading the team to victory, focusing more on assists than on shots. He still is the senior leader on the team, and Gonzaga's success through the season will only go as far as Pangos takes them. A good game before UCLA will do wonders for the confidence.
Time: 8 p.m., PT
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