WSU men put their depth on display vs. EWU

Cougars forwards Efe Abogidi, left, and D.J. Rodman (11) battle Idaho guard Rashad Smith for a loose ball during last week’s nonconference game in Moscow. WSU rolled to a 109-61 win.

Too much of a good thing is a nice problem to have as a basketball coach — a quandary Washington State men’s coach Kyle Smith finds himself in with one game to go before the team’s Pac-12 Conference opener.

WSU (5-0) faces regional foe Eastern Washington (2-3) — the Big Sky champions and an NCAA tournament team a year ago — at 4:30 p.m. today (Pac-12) at Beasley Coliseum.

As Smith tries to sort out his rotation, the Cougars currently have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes and nobody playing more than 27 per game. The display of depth has resulted in an undefeated record so far in nonconference play, with the Cougs averaging 87.6 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Not bad for a team more known for stingy defense.

“Pretty much my talk (from) Oct. 1 to now is ‘Look, we don’t have any bad players,’ ” Smith said Friday. “The hardest job as a coach is to settle in on seven or eight guys that are going to get the majority of the minutes, and those guys that are in that 9-, 10- and beyond-role, we have to have a great attitude.

“You never know when your number is going to get called.”

Several of the Cougars already are set in their roles. Versatile guard Noah Williams, the team’s top returner, leads WSU with 13.8 points per game. Transfer guards Michael Flowers (South Alabama) and Tyrell Roberts (UC San Diego) have settled in nicely at 12.2 points per game each.

The Cougs also have depth in the paint with sophomore Efe Abogidi (6-foot-10), sophomore Dishon Jackson (6-10) and freshman Mouhamed Gueye (6-11), who are all improving quickly.

But after that, it’s a battle between a host of talented players that all won’t be able to play every game.

There are five players averaging between 4.6 and 6.0 points per contest.

Smith pointed to how junior guard Ryan Rapp, who has 12 points in just seven minutes this season, is a perfect example of what he wants to see from his reserve group.

“I’m sure he’s tired of it, but I reference how Ryan, I can count on him to play 19 minutes a game, don’t go away, you don’t know when your situation is (coming),” Smith said, “but also to keep some of the guys who aren’t playing as much as they hoped, look how he’s handling it.”

The extreme depth results in WSU’s scrimmages almost always coming down to the wire.

Smith said a morning scrimmage ended Thursday in an 18-15 score, red team (starters) winning.

“Hopefully that team wins the majority so I got it close to right,” Smith said, laughing.

The Cougars have remained on the Palouse for the entire nonconference schedule thus far — their only road game was eight miles away at Idaho Central Credit Union Arena against the Vandals — which has allowed the team to grow closer and get in more practice.

Smith and the players held a team Thanksgiving dinner Thursday courtesy of “Big Mike” from Zoe Coffee and Kitchen in Pullman.

“I’ll give a shameless plug for Zoe’s — my Big Mike spent a big portion of his Thanksgiving putting together an incredible spread so our guys could have some family time away from their families,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity for our guys to really grow and bond.

“Explaining to the international guys what Thanksgiving is — a pretty universal idea to give thanks for all the blessings we have.”

Against the Eagles, WSU faces a team it survived to beat 71-68 a year ago.

Smith said EWU features a bunch of interchangeable players in the 6-6 to 6-8 range who can hit 3s or swap out and play inside, too. They’re led this season by 6-7 Steele Venters (19 ppg) and 6-6 Linton Acliese (18.2).

“We were very fortunate to beat them last year,” Smith said. “They had a really good team and it looks like they have the makings of such a squad again.”

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.

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