While his may not be the prevailing opinion coming out of Pullman today, Washington State freshman basketball player DaVonte’ Lacy said earlier this week that he wants it both ways.
“Hopefully, we get what we want,” the WSU wing said as his team prepared to play host to the rival University of Washington Huskies, “and they get what they want too.”
Quite simply, that’s not going to happen.
Lacy, a Tacoma native who grew up just 40 miles from the UW campus, might hope for the best from both programs as the regular season winds down, but the truth is that any WSU success tonight could come at serious expense of the Huskies’ hopes for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.
As UW junior Abdul Gaddy said earlier this week: “We’re taking each game as a championship game. We need to win out.”
In that regard, today’s Apple Cup of the Hardwood carries added weight as UW and WSU go to battle for the 274th time.
The Cougars, who are still clinging to a thread of hope for their own inclusion in a lesser postseason tournament, aren’t necessarily looking at tonight’s game as a chance to knock the Huskies (19-8 overall, 12-3 in the Pacific-12 Conference) off their perch.
“Our only focus right now is on WSU basketball and being the best team we can be in the next basketball game,” head coach Ken Bone said during a Tuesday conference call, “and it just happens to be against the University of Washington.”
Lacy also downplayed the significance of WSU’s spoiler role heading into tonight’s game.
“If we do what we want to do, hopefully we’ll knock everybody off their path,” the WSU freshman said. “We’re not looking at it as a chance to spoil things for UW. Hopefully, everything works out for the Dawgs, too.”
What’s at stake for the Huskies is a chance to post their fourth consecutive 20-win season — a streak that has yet to happen during head coach Lorenzo Romar’s tenure — as well as a possible NCAA tournament at-large bid and a share of first place in the Pac-12.
Heading into tonight’s game, UW appears to have a legitimate shot at being invited to next month’s Big Dance — even if the Huskies don’t win the conference tournament for the third year in a row. Some recent losses by tourney hopefuls such as Texas, Connecticut, Northwestern, Miami and Xavier have probably put UW in the position of controlling its own tournament destiny heading into the final three games of the regular season. The Huskies are also a half-game out of first place and can move back into a tie with likely NCAA tournament shoe-in Cal (22-6, 12-3) with a win tonight.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar acknowledged the added stakes in tonight’s game but was quick to point out that it’s familiar territory for UW basketball this time of year.
“Each game,” he said, “is a new adventure, a new challenge.”
While WSU coaches and players aren’t necessarily rallying around the spoil-the-Huskies’-season mantra, it’s safe to say that fans in Pullman will be reveling in the chance to knock UW back.
“If you’re a true Coug,” WSU junior guard Reggie Moore said, “you always want to see the Huskies go down.”
But Moore, a Seattle native, was quick to add that ruining the feel-good story of this Huskies season wasn’t necessarily a motivator going into tonight’s game.
“Even if we were the two worst teams (in the Pac-12), it would still be a big game,” he said.
What seems to be motivating many WSU players this week is the multi-layered rivalry that comes from playing a cross-state team with several familiar faces. Lacy grew up playing on teams with Gaddy’s younger brother, while Moore is so close to current UW freshmen Tony Wroten Jr. and Hikeem Stewart that he considered them “like my two little brothers.”
Said Lacy: “Besides the (natural) rivalry, there’s a rivalry because we grew up playing together. I think that gives us added motivation.”
The Cougars (14-13, 6-9) gave UW a scare in Seattle last month but eventually lost 75-65. Since then, WSU has lost Faisal Aden to a season-ending knee injury but has seen leading scorer Brock Motum emerge as one of the most consistent scorers in the Pac-12.
“I think they’re playing really good basketball now,” Romar said. “This is not going to be easy.”