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Men's Basketball Preview: Washington State Cougars

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The Huskies look to close out the regular season with a rivalry win over the Cougars.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Huskies (16-13, 8-9) vs. Washington State Cougars (9-20, 1-16), Wed. March 2nd 8:00pm, ESPNU.

It has been a rough season for second year coach Ernie Kent and his Cougars. An entertaining and somewhat encouraging non-conference experience gave way to the brutal reality of conference play in a particularly deep season for the Pac-12.

WSU stands at 9-20 on the year and 1-16 in conference. The Cougs haven't tasted victory since knocking off UCLA on the 3rd of January. The last truly competitive loss took place at Colorado, where WSU lost 88-81 in double-overtime.

It will be senior night at HecEd, an opportunity to honor Andrew Andrews, Washington's lone scholarship senior. The Huskies are coming off a devastating road trip that included a controversial last-second defeat at Oregon State and a rivalry loss in Eugene.

These are reasons to believe Washington will come out focused and looking to take out some pent-up frustration. We tend to account for a higher probability of shenanigans in these rivalry games. Even so, the Huskies deserve to be heavy favorites to log an Apple Cup (Hardwood Edition) win to close out the regular season.

Projected Starting Five: Charles Callison (Jr., 6-0, 180), G Ike Iroegbu (Jr., 6-2, 190), G Que Johnson (Jr., 6-5, 205), F Josh Hawkinson (Jr., 6-10, 245), C Valentine Izundu (Jr., 6-10, 215).

Key Bench Players: F Derrien King (So., 6-7, 175), F Junior Longrus (Sr., 6-7, 240), G Viont'e Daniels (Fr., 6-3, 170).

If I'm a WSU fan searching for reasons to hope for a second Pac-12 win to close out the year, I look to Josh Hawkinson and Washington's tendency to allow dominant performances from bigs capable of fighting for offensive boards and finishing put-backs.

Hawkinson has been a steady double-double machine all season, including very typical 17-and-10 and 14-and-9 performances in losing to Oregon and Oregon State. I worry that with Washington's defending rebounding problems, Hawkinson could far surpass his typical performance.

The junior forward did just that when the Huskies visited Pullman back in January, logging a 20-point, 20-rebound night that included five offensive boards and constant trips to the free throw line. The Huskies still won that game, but surrounding that kind of a night to the Cougs star cuts down Washington's margin for error.

Starting alongside Hawkinson in the front court will likely be Izundu. After spending most of the year coming off the bench and losing a chunk of conference season to injury, Izundu has started the past two games.

It seems wise for Coach Kent to keep Izundu's size in the starting five, especially since he grabbed a combined five offensive boards over those two starts. He is also a potent shot-blocker.

The past two weeks have been brutal for Iroegbu. He has arguably been WSU's second-best player all year, with his game-altering speed giving Washington trouble in Pullman earlier in the season, but in zero of his past eight games has he scored double-digit points or shot greater than 30% from the field. A big chunk of the misses have come from beyond the arc.

Que Johnson has picked up some of Ike's slack scoring the ball, including a season-high 25 points in the 2OT loss in Boulder and 19 points against the Ducks. Without his contributions as a secondary scorer this season could have been far more bleak.

Starting lineups have been fluid for Kent this season, but Callison rounded out the starting five most recently at Oregon State. In that case he will assist Ike in facilitating the offense while chipping in a few points.

The bench features two intriguing pieces for the future in King and Daniels as well as a grizzled grinder in Longrus. Several others could see spare minutes.

I apologize for the relative lack of detail, but there is not a lot to say here. If the Huskies struggle tomorrow it will probably be more about Washington shooting itself in the foot and WSU taking advantage with sheer effort.

The Huskies have formed a few bad habits. They often start games slowly. They struggle to body up and disallow offensive rebounds. They commit silly fouls and turnovers.

If Romar's squad puts all these bad habits on display and the Cougs come out motivated to end the season on a high note, it's not hard to imagine an early deficit fueled by Hawkinson put-backs and foul trouble on Chriss/Dickerson/Dime.

But the deficit would be about the Huskies more than the Cougs, and it would still seem almost inevitable that Andrews, Murray, and the rest of this mercurial bunch would make up for lost time in the second half.

Personally I suspect a rare strong start fueled by rivalry and senior-night emotion followed by a more characteristic slump early in the second half that lets the Cougs back into the game and finally resolved with a late-game flurry from Andrews in his final home game.

My Prediction: Washington 88, Washington State 74