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Cougs win again in harrowing fashion

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But at least they’re winning!

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings. If you’re a fan of the Seattle Mariners (first of all, sorry), you’re well aware of their legendary broadcaster, Dave Niehaus. You’re also versed in the parade of “closers” who passed through over the years, turning many a likely Mariner win into a loss. One of those guys was Jose Mesa, whose best days were long in the rearview mirror by the time he donned a Mariner uniform.

Even when Mesa managed to get the SS Mariner into port, it was never easy. Niehaus beautifully described these adventures with one phrase I’ll never forget when Mesa trotted in one evening. While saying that Mesa’s results were ok, Niehaus termed Mesa’s efforts “white knuckle jobs.” That phrase kept coming to mind as I watched the Washington State Cougars basketball team flail mightily down the stretch again on Saturday, against an inferior and injury-plagued Cal squad. But while WSU’s late game bugaboos are well-known and a possible harbinger of poor results as the competition stiffens, for now at least, WSU is white knuckling its way to victory.

Since this is a results-oriented endeavor, it’s next to impossible for anyone to bemoan what the Cougs have done of late, having reeled off five straight Pac-12 wins. And as was mentioned both during the game and in print afterward, the weekend road sweep over the Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears was WSU’s first since January of 1993. Pretty good!

On the “here are the things that matter” front, Saturday’s win in Berkeley kept WSU in a fourth-place tie with Washington, one half game back of both the Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins. On a national rankings scale, WSU now sits at #36 in the NET and #32 on Ken Pomeroy’s list. Even ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is starting to take notice of WSU, as it has crept into his bubble consideration.

This is all well and good (actually pretty great!) but these next couple weeks will tell the tale of the 2021-22 WSU basketball team. First up is top ten/first place Arizona, which comes to town Thursday in what is easily the biggest game on the Palouse since the late 2000s. After the weekend capper against Arizona State - which has been a big disappointment at 3-7, but which also beat UCLA Saturday - WSU has a three game road stretch in seven days.

The trip opens on Valentine’s Day with a makeup game at Oregon, followed by a weekend swing through Los Angeles. As some folks in the Air Force are fond of saying when they’re about to hand you a task you don’t want any part of, “here’s a chance to excel!” It’s probably safe to say that WSU’s post season future beyond the conference tournament will be foretold over that five-game stretch.

But that’s for next week. Since I haven’t been able to watch WSU save for a time or two - Saturday was the first time since early December- here are a couple random observations.

  • I really, really hope that Gueye and Abogidi stick around after this season, because I can get used to opposing teams being terrified to take shots around the rim, for fear of a swatting. Seems like it’s always the opponent doing that to the Cougars.
  • Speaking of Gueye, why didn’t anyone tell me he was a long range sniper?! Well ok, he’s not, but he drilled both of his three point attempts on Saturday after having hit just two of 13 on the season. Those foul shots though, yikes.
  • And speaking of Abogidi, his athleticism never ceases to amaze. He made that breakaway dunk look relatively simple, and it definitely was not.
  • Michael Flowers has been a savior recently (at least he was Saturday). The only lament is that it took him longer than we’d hoped to establish himself as a primary scorer. After not topping 13 points in Pac-12 play prior to this weekend, Flowers scored 16 at Stanford and poured in 22 at Cal, courtesy of some deft three-point shooting and clutch free throws down the stretch.
  • Another game, another drought that almost turned a win into a loss. Just can’t happen if these guys want to sustain success against better competition.
  • Small sample size in terms of games I’ve seen, but Saturday sure made it seem like WSU has very little offensive identity, relying on deep threes and broken plays for a lot of its scoring.
  • Then there’s the defense. Like I mentioned on Slack, this half in/half out zone stuff just doesn’t seem to be working. It’s like a football team that runs the Pistol formation for a few series every game. It is not conducive to long term success. You’re either a zone team or you’re not. Stop trying to sprinkle it in.
  • No idea what’s going on with Noah Williams but he shouldn’t be anything but a fifth option on offense. He is lost. Feels like a case of a guy who was the alpha on some lousy teams, and hasn’t been able to adjust to the fact that there are now players around him with more talent and ability than he has.

So here we go, Coug fans. We’ve all been pining for a competitive team, one which would be playing big home games late in the season, with NCAA Tournament implications. Well, that time is here. The onus is upon you, students and locals, to turn out and give your full-throated support to the Cougs, both Thursday and Saturday.

Tip time Thursday is 6 p.m.

Basketball

The Cougar women go for a sweep of their own on Sunday, aiming to do something the men have never done. Kami Etheridge, Charlisse Leger-Walker and Co. will try to emerge from the mountains 2-0 as the 3rd-place Cougs head into SLC to face 7th-place Utah. Tip time is 11 a.m., and can be seen on Pac-12 Washington.

'We've grown up a lot': Washington State survives in the Bay, inches past Cal to complete tense road sweep | The Spokesman-Review
It hasn’t been pretty, and it’s been a nerve-racking stretch for the WSU faithful. But the results are coming, so who’s complaining?

Cal can't complete comeback in loss to Wazzu
A career high 20 points from Jalen Celestine isn't enough in a 68-64 loss.

This Week in Parenting

As anyone who has ever been around a male - particularly a younger male - knows, the toilet has a tendency to become a “free fire area.” The following exchange happened a while back, but I kept forgetting to mention it. The 10 year-old came in one morning before school and asked if he could use the toilet in our bathroom. I said, “Sure, but only if you don’t pee all over it.” “Fine,” he said, “I’ll just go in the other bathroom.” As I told the folks in our Slack, it feels like I took an “L” there.

Speaking of the 10 year-old, the Mighty Wolverines had an off week, so the adoring crowd at the youth center was not graced by some really cool socks. But while we’re on the subject of footwear, I’ve got an observation and question for the parents out there. When I was a kid, I always untied my shoes when I took them off at home, mostly because it was a pain in the ass to put them back on if I didn’t. My boys do not do this. No matter how many times I tell them to untie their shoes, things don’t change, and there they are every morning stepping on the heels of the sneakers, trying to cram into them. I just don’t get it. They tell me the shoes stay tied in order to save time, but I chalk it up to laziness. Do other kids do this? Am I crazy for letting it bother me? No need to answer that last one.

And finally, after years’-worth of requests, the boys convinced me to let them watch Top Gun (aka the greatest piece of recruiting video the United States Navy ever had) on Saturday. I hadn’t seen it in many years, but it’s funny how many lines one remembers. And the fact that it was rated PG seems odd when you watch it again. Naturally, both boys screamed at me to fast forward when the love scene came on. Happy to oblige! The movie was a hit among the young ones, and we watched multiple trailers for the sequel afterward.

Non-Sports

Joe Biden’s Saigon - The Atlantic
America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan added moral injury to military failure. But a group of soldiers, veterans, and ordinary citizens came together to try to save Afghan lives and salvage some American honor.

FBI Infiltrator Spent 25 Years Unmasking Nazis, the Klan, and Gangs - Rolling Stone
Scott was a top undercover agent for the FBI, putting himself in harm's way dozens of times. Now, he’s telling his story for the first time to sound the alarm about the threat of far-right extremists in America.