Seattle, WA - What a difference a year can make for Washington State men's basketball.
As Coach Ken Bone prepares his team for the Cougar Hardwood Classic Tuesday night where they will face the LSU Tigers (8-2), a glance back at their meeting last year triggers thoughts about the change in WSU hoops.
WSU (9-2) traveled down to Baton Rouge last season to take on the Tigers on their home court. LSU had a new head coach who was very familiar to Pac-10 fans.
Trent Johnson spent several successful seasons from 1996-2008 coaching the Cardinal basketball program at Stanford. Johnson was Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2008, yet wasn't getting much love from the school administration. No big deal. Johnson simply answered his phone when LSU called, and was more than happy to pack his bags and travel to Louisiana.
Washington State lost to the Tigers in a game that had the look and feel of a Pac-10 contest. Lots of defense. Deliberate play. Limited possessions and a low score. Coach Johnson employs a defense-first approach to the college game, mirrored by former WSU Coach Tony Bennett . The final score last Dec. 27 was LSU 64-WSU 52.
This season, new head coach Ken Bone has the Cougs playing aggressive defense, but favoring an up-tempo style of play. Washington State could put up 52 points in a half against some opponents so far this year.
Come Tuesday night in Key Arena, it's not likely that Washington State will force LSU into a running game. But the Tigers are going to be pressed hard and often by the young Cougs.
LSU is led by senior forward Tasmin Mitchell, who is averaging 17.2 points per game. At 6'7" and 245 pounds, he is going to be a tough matchup for WSU. Mitchell plays aggressive, physical basketball. He averages 8.8 boards a game, yet is savvy and doesn't get into foul trouble. He will be on the floor for nearly the entire game.
Offensively, the bulk of the remaining points will come from a couple of players who played their high school ball in the shadows of Maravich Center on the campus of LSU. Bo Spencer is a junior guard who is averaging 15.9 points a game while dishing out nearly three assists. Sophomore Storm Warren is a very good forward with size and athleticism, scoring at a 15.4 pace. Warren is also averaging 1.9 shot blocks per game.
Coach Bone will urge his players to crash the boards to create transition opportunities to control the flow up the game. That should be a real challenge against a physical LSU team that probably won't even look for a shot in the first 20 seconds of the shot clock.
Coach Johnson enjoyed success with a deliberate style at Stanford and is doing the same thing at LSU. His team won 27 games last year grinding down opponents and was a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In terms of preparing for conference play, this will be Washington State's best test yet. If they focus on playing their game, this one will be a dandy.
Freshman point guard Reggie Moore will be playing close to home and will have plenty of family and friends on hand to cheer him on. Moore played his high school ball at Rainer Beach HS. He won't be the only Viking alum on the hardwood tomorrow night. Freshman Aaron Dotson has seen quality playing time this season for the Tigers. Should be interesting basketball when the two matchup against each other.
The game will be televised by CBS College Sports Tuesday night beginning at 7pm with Greg Heister calling the play-by-play and Coug Craig Ehlo providing color. Bud Nameck will call the game on the Cougar Sports Radio Network.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column on Examiner.com