Washington St. at Cal
Idaho at Southern Utah
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Pacific today, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
Records: Washington St. 8-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-12 Conference; Cal 5-6 overall, 0-4 Pac-12.
Players: The youth movement is gaining steam as WSU digs into league play. Big man Efe Abogidi, who’s in line to start his 10th game, is one of just two freshmen in the country averaging 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game. Macedonian forward Andrej Jakimovski (7.8 ppg, 5.8 rebounds) is steadily developing into a solid rebounder, defender and 3-point sniper. Rookie post Dishon Jackson got his first-career start in the Cougars’ double-overtime loss to Arizona on Saturday, and coach Kyle Smith said the 6-foot-10 Californian’s talent rivaled that of anyone on the floor. The statistical leaders remain the Northwest backcourt duo of Isaac Bonton (17.1 ppg, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals) and Noah Williams (13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.2 steals), but more options are quickly breaking out for an offense that ranks 243rd in the NCAA, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Cougars still sit No. 1 nationally in field-goal percentage defense (34.215). Wazzu has been focused on improving its foul shooting after going just 19-for-37 from the stripe against the Wildcats. The Cougars were without four players — each in the school’s coronavirus protocol — that night. Smith said at least one will return in 7-footer Volodymyr Markovetskyy, and his presence is “vital” against a Cal team that’s known mostly for its inside game. The Bears could be without their two leading scorers in 6-8 senior forward Grant Anticevich (10.3 ppg) and all-conference guard Matt Bradley (17.8), both of whom are dealing with injuries. Bradley torched Wazzu last year on penetration plays, scoring 26 points in a win at Berkeley. A month later, Cal triumphed again, this time going to work underneath.
Game themes: The Cougars will break the monotony and finally get out of town for their first road game. WSU enters off its first loss. The Cougs, despite stacked odds, had their chances in that one. After being swept by the Golden Bears last season, an away win tonight could fast recoup the momentum generated with an unblemished nonconference schedule. Cal’s a middle-tier Pac-12 team. It was handled twice by an Oregon State team that Wazzu beat. The Bears were blown out by UCLA and Oregon, and stunned by low-major Pepperdine.
Tipoff: 6 p.m. Pacific today, America First Event Center, Cedar City, Utah.
Records: Idaho 0-7 overall, 0-4 Big Sky Conference; Southern Utah 7-1 overall, 2-0 Big Sky.
Players: Pacing Southern Utah, a surprise squad in the Big Sky, is Illinois transfer Tevian Jones, a 6-7 guard who’s third in the league in scoring at 18.1 points per game. Maizen Fausett (13.9 ppg), a 6-6 forward, and guard John Knight (12.9) have also been steady for the Thunderbirds, who boast arguably the most prolific offense in the conference. SUU shoots 50 percent from the field and attempts the second-most amount of shots among Big Sky programs. Idaho, meanwhile, is ranked 278th in the country in scoring defense, and is basically 250th or worse in every category besides 3-point shooting percentage (35.5, No. 115 nationally). Senior post Scott Blakney (12.7 ppg) hits 61 percent of his attempts, while Gabe Quinnett, a sophomore guard from Moscow High, has been a bright spot too with a per-game average of 10.7 points on 48.4 percent from 3-point range. Juco transfer DeAndre Robinson and Idahoan senior Damen Thacker both tack on 8 points per game.
Game themes: SUU’s hot start is a little misleading. Granted, the Thunderbirds own good wins in their two one-point defeats of Montana. But take a look at some of their other opponents: National Christian College Athletic Association team Bethesda, which Southern Utah topped twice; Dixie State, a program playing its first year in Division I; and NAIA Saint Katherine. SUU, which ranks No. 17 on the Mid-Major Top 25 poll, hasn’t seen the floor since Dec. 21 because of COVID-19 issues. UI rallied, then lost in overtime to fellow BSC bottom-feeder Northern Arizona the last time out. Blakney and Quinnett posted career-high scoring outputs of 23 and 18 points, respectively. The Vandals have been plagued by late turnovers and foul trouble this season, and haven’t yet been able to close out a solid performance.