Today, it almost was the Cougars when the two teams were preparing for a 2 p.m. PT matinee tipoff on FS1.
WSU coach Kyle Smith didn’t sound very confident about the prospect of sophomore guard Noah Williams returning to the floor after he took a hard spill in Saturday’s loss to Stanford, saying his team was “probably starting four freshman” against UCLA.
That meant guard TJ Bamba would have been joining fellow true freshmen Andrej Jakimovski, Efe Abogidi, and Dishon Jackson — as well as senior guard Isaac Bonton — in the starting lineup. It seems Ryan Rapp and DJ Rodman are unlikely to return from “COVID protocol.”
“We’re operating as if TJ will have to start right now,” Smith said.
Turns out, it was all a ruse!
Remarkably, the Cougs have surged with that three-freshman lineup, a testament to Smith’s recruiting as each has improved on the production of the players they supplanted. Bamba, though, has played as one would normally expect a WSU freshman to play: Inconsistently. Despite oozing athleticism, he’s making just 46% of his 2s, has hit just 2-of-8 3-pointers, and he’s made a number of turnovers where he’s shuffled his feet trying to make a move.
Williams is an incredibly important presence for WSU, defending the opponent’s best offensive weapon the perimeter while also providing a secondary scoring punch for the offense, and replacing him with improved production would have been unlikely.
“I thought Bamba did well. I know he went 0-for-6 from the field — he missed a couple of bunnies — but his defense was good,” Smith said. “We’re searching a little bit on the perimeter. Just so much new. But Andrej stepped up last game and played really well.”
Smith did say that Williams was going to be OK, that he was “moving around,” but that he wasn’t quite game ready. Guess he was just kidding!
Three Cougs drafted in the NWSL
As expected, WSU freshman Trinity Rodman — one of the brightest young stars in American soccer — was selected highly in the NWSL draft yesterday, going No. 2 overall to the Washington (D.C.) Spirit. But she also was joined by two of her would-be teammates: Brianna Alger (No. 25 to Chicago) and Makamae Gomera-Stevens (No. 27 to Houston).
Rodman has decided to forego her collegiate career to turn pro, but Alger and Gomera-Stevens will both play their senior seasons this spring before potentially joining the teams that drafted them in an attempt to make another run at the College Cup.
Rodman is the second consecutive Coug to be taken with the No. 2 pick, joining Morgan Weaver, who was selected second overall by the Portland Thorns last year.
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