Nov 21, 2013; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kyle Dranginis (3) fights for the ball against Washington State Cougars forward D.J. Shelton (23) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
The Washington State Cougars against the Gonzaga Bulldogs is one of the more underrated annual showdowns in the country, but it is one that fans on the Palouse and in the Spokane area appreciate almost as much as the Apple Cup.
The series was almost eliminated by Mark Few and the Zags last year, we found out within the past few days, but Bill Moos instead agreed to a horrid 2-for-1 deal that will see the Cougs play in Spokane for a second straight year late in 2014. Cougs everywhere have responded with an array of negative feedback, including former Coug-baller Brock Motum.
Actually, no Brock, it would be like the Cougs and Dawgs moving the Apple cup to Key Arena in Seattle for a “neutral site” game, which I think we all agree is a bad idea for the Cougs. While I can understand Moos’ honorable intentions to keep this rivalry alive “for the fans”, I truly believe the Cougs got bullied here.
The Zags are good now, but look at the history of this rivalry. The Cougs lead the series 98-50. That’s right, NINETY-EIGHT to FIFTY! If anyone should be visiting the other twice a year it’s Gonzaga, but they are power-playing the Cougs based on the recent success of their program and it’s a smart move. This tweet from Jason Puckett of KJR pretty much sums it up.
BLAM! Gonzaga knows that with Kent on the way in, the Cougs are automatically much improved (in theory and likely reality). But Washington State is not necessarily a game they need and they simply cannot afford to start losing to or really even to start struggling with the Cougs.
Two years ago the Cougs almost took the Zags out in Pullman (took a buzzer beater by Kevin Pangos to avoid OT) and that Cougar team was far from what would be considered “formidable”. If that had gone WSU’s way it surely would have cost Gonzaga that eventual No. 1 seed. UCLA can tell you just how difficult playing in Pullman can be and Gonzaga has generally come up short in Beasley over the course of the rivalry. The Zags aren’t that far removed from feeling the full sting of Pullman either, just two visits ago when David Stockton was a freshman, Klay Thompson’s Cougs blasted the Spokanites right out of the building in an 81-59 romp.
Unfortunately for WSU, the facts are that they are not in the same position to give away that one game on their schedule as it is one of their only premier non-conference tilts. Actually in this case being in the better conference hurts the Cougs. One out of three at home is better than none out of three.
For example if they gave it up to avoid being bullied, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they would even get a good game out of whatever other deal they could strike up, much less a premier game in the state of Washington. Nobody wants to travel to Pullman and we all know how well the Cougs have traveled historically. We also know the schedule outside of that Gonzaga game usually is pretty weak. The negative effects on the potential resume for NCAA Tournament and NIT bids could be astronomical, especially if the Cougs turn it around quickly under Kent.
And so the Cougs need the matchup and the Zags need the home court advantage. Sure, they’ll say WSU will get half the tickets, but we all know how that will turn out. Getting a third would have to be considered a victory for Wazzu faithful. The best thing the Cougs can do now is to go in and throw karma in the Zags’ face at the Spokane Arena.