This week in Cougar Hoops

ABE LODWICK

WHEN WASHINGTON STATE unveiled its 2011-12 basketball schedule, there was hardly reason to circle the upcoming week's games against Western Oregon and Pepperdine. Western Oregon? What, Western Wyoming wasn't available?

And Pepperdine, while not a bad name by itself, is hardly the program it once was. The Waves have been a West Coast Conference bottom feeder for a number of years, though they look a little better this season.

But suddenly, WSU's games against the Wolves and Waves are starting to look interesting. Not that the Cougars are in serious danger of losing either. They shouldn't. But WSU's performance this week should be a bit of a tip-off as to what's in store for Washington State during the upcoming Pacific-12 season.

As you might have noticed, WSU basketball recently found a pulse. Thought to be short-handed with injuries to Faisal Aden, Mike Ladd and Abe Lodwick, the struggling Cougars suddenly found that sharing the ball and working inside does wonders for the bottom line. Washington State is riding a four-game winning streak, the latest triumph a 93-55 masterpiece over Santa Clara.

That lost Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim isn't forgotten, but it's beginning to look like an aberration. Or at least a much-needed wake-up call.

But Aden, Ladd and Lodwick won't be out for long. One, two or perhaps all three could return to action for Western Oregon and/or Pepperdine, which leads to a conundrum. Certainly Aden and Lodwick are quality Division I players, and Ladd works, too. They can't just sit and watch. When healthy, they're going to play.

Question is, how much, and does coach Ken Bone have the spine to sit any of these three players, or for that matter, someone else if they can't adapt to the Cougars' recent style of play? If Aden and Lodwick enhance what is taking place at the moment, Washington State might be a handful come Pac-12 play.

The week ahead: Washington State (6-4) plays two games during the upcoming week, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday against Western Oregon, and 7 p.m. Thursday at Pepperdine.

Western Oregon (8-1) is clearly the weakest team on WSU's 2011-12 schedule. But for a NCAA Division II team, the Wolves are pretty good. Western Oregon has won eight consecutive games, and during an exhibition game in early November, lost to Portland State 91-82; the Vikings are a respectable Big Sky team that could give the Cougars problems.

If anything, the Wolves don't get much respect. Western Oregon has a win over Augustana, rated No. 15 in the latest D-II poll, yet the Wolves didn't get a single vote in the national rankings. WOU's eight-game winning streak is the school's longest in 15 years (the Wolves play Notre Dame da Namur on Friday night). Washington State is Western Oregon's most notable opponents since 2009, when the Wolves lost to Oregon State 75-55 in Corvallis.

Western Oregon is led by two 6-foot-3 senior guards in Blair Wheadon (15.3 ppg), and Kyle Long (13.2 ppg).

To no one's surprise, Pepperdine (5-4) is the toughest of WSU's two opponents. The Waves have had success in spurts this season, their signature win coming in a 66-60 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 15. Pepperdine's latest game was a 73-70 loss against Cal State-Northridge; the Waves play host to Montana State on Sunday.

Statistically, the computers don't think much of Pepperdine. The respected Pomeroy college basketball ratings have Pepperdine at No. 246; for comparison, Washington State is No. 67.

Pepperdine has only one player with a double-digit scoring average; he is forward Taylor Darby, averaging 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. But 6-10 post Corbin Moore is also a force at 9.9 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

The Waves can be offensively challenged, if the Cougars show up to play defense. Pepperdine scored just 39 points against UCLA, and 49 against Northern Arizona. The Waves shoot just 41.4 percent from the floor, ranking No. 308 in the country.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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