Battle for the Apple: Washington State Hosts Rival Washington on Sunday

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Battle for the Apple: Washington State Hosts Rival Washington on Sunday

I've already seen fans lined up outside Beasley Coliseum for tomorrow night's matchup between the Washington State Cougars 14-6 (4-4) and the No. 17 Washington Huskies 15-4 (7-1). And the game is still 29 hours away.

Washington is coming into the game outscoring Pac-10 opponents by an average of 25 points per game.

If the Cougars want to win this game, they must be darn near perfect in every category.

The game will feature four players who are in the top 12 in scoring in the conference including three of the top five. Washington State's Klay Thompson (22.2), Washington's Isaiah Thomas (16.9), and Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning (16.2).

Washington State's Faisal Aden is averaging 14.1 points a game, but he's been held to eight points or less in five of his last eight outings. The Cougars have gone 4-5 during that stretch which includes a victory against Arizona State where Aden sat out resting a sore knee.

It might seem weird to hear me say that country's ninth leading scorer is a wild card in this game, but that's exactly how I'm labeling Klay Thompson.

Last Saturday against Arizona, Thompson had his worst shooting game of the season by far and based on last year's second half swoon, no one can tell me that he'll be his old self on Sunday.

Junior Isaiah Thomas

Last Saturday, he was held to just nine points and connected on only one three-point field goal in seven tries. It was just the third time this season that Thompson didn't make at least two three-point field goals, and the Cougars are 1-2 when that stat is presented.

Washington is fast. There's no denying it. Guards Venoy Overton along with Thomas are fearless when they take it into the lane, and that causes defenses to converge on the penetration allowing for kick outs to their multiple threats from beyond three-point territory.

Both guards are in the top five in the conference in assists per game, are ranked two-three in assists to turnover ratio per game and Washington as a whole has connected on more three-point field goals than any team in the conference, averaging nine makes a game from downtown.

This team is scary.

Because while they've always had good perimeter players, one of the questions coming into this season was the play of senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Could he be a dominant force on the inside?

Yes he can, and yes he has.

Averaging 19 and nine in the first eight games of league play earned Bryan-Amaning his first player of the week honor of his career back during the first week of January. Teammate Isaiah Thomas has won the award twice in the past three weeks.

Senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning

Last Saturday, Bryan-Amaning went off for 30 points and nine rebounds against Arizona State while going eight for eight from the free-throw line.

I was not able to watch the Husky game against Stanford back on Jan. 13, when they lost 58-56 in Palo Alto so I can't pinpoint visually what the Cardinal were able to do to keep the Huskies to their lowest scoring output of the season.

On the other hand, the 58 points the Huskies gave up was their second best defense scoring game.

Looking at game totals for the Huskies side by side, it's noticeable that the Huskies only went to the free-throw line 12 times as a team against Stanford while during the season they average 20 attempts a game. Last weekend against the Arizona schools, they averaged nearly 30 attempts for both games.

For the Cougars to win this game, they simply must outscore the Huskies. Sounds elementary but it's the truth. The Huskies have more size, more depth and their style has them better conditioned.

The Cougars will most likely stick with the two-three zone they've played throughout most of the season and continue to double down the team's low-post force every time he gets the ball. In this case, Matthew Bryan-Amaning.

The Cougars dedication to the zone has seen them allow just 64 points a game, and they have the No. 1 field goal defense in the conference. They are holding opponents to just 38 percent, and they're the only team holding their opponents below 40 percent on the year.

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Because the Cougars like to clog the lane and also have conference-leading shot blocker DeAngelo Casto lurking around, it's no surprise the Cougars have allowed the most shot attempts from downtown of any team in the Pac-10.

For the Huskies who shoot 39 percent from beyond the arc, that might be a good thing.

When it comes to rebounding, the Huskies have the edge, and it's not even close. I almost don't even want the Cougars to crash the offensive boards. They're grabbing fewer than nine offensive boards a game, and with the Huskies wanting to run the ball all game, it seems it would be smarter to let the Cougars fire away and just immediately rush back on defense.

That seemed to work when the Bennetts had their success.

I can see either team winning this game, but if I had to pick a winner, it would be the Huskies. They have no weakness that the Cougars can exploit and run with for the entire game.

When Washington lost to Stanford, they shot a season low 36 percent, way below the 49 percent they average, which is ninth in the country. They also dished out only 11 assists, seven below their average of 17.7, eighth in the nation.

Based on those two statistics, the key to success for the Cougars is this. Stop penetration by Thomas and Overton. They are as crafty as any two guards in the country, and if they can find the cracks and get close enough to the basket causing the Cougar defenders to drop down, that'll leave three-point specialists like Justin Holiday, Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox, who are all shooting above 41 percent from three-point land, to fire away.

The Huskies have beaten the Cougars four consecutive times following seven straight victories for the Cougars dating from January 2006 to March 2008.

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