PULLMAN — Road trips to tiny, isolated Pullman have been called many things by many people, most of which are unfit to be printed in a family newspaper.
Leave it to Lorenzo Romar, the articulate coach of the Washington Huskies, to come up with a unique description for playing basketball in front of a Cougars crowd that can be as loud and nasty as any in the Pacific-12 Conference.
“They’re always festive,” Romar said with a smile. “Waiting for us, cussing at us and all that stuff. It’s definitely not a ‘blah’ place to go and play the game.”
A “festive” audience of more than 9,000 figures to be on hand tonight when the Huskies and Cougars open conference play at Beasley Coliseum.
The Cougars are 9-4 with four conscutive wins.
The Huskies are 8-5 and showing signs of progress as players return to health, but it is no secret that neither team is expected to make a run at the Pac-12 title.
The Cougars lead the conference in scoring defense at 55.2 points a game, but coach Ken Bone admits that WSU’s weak nonconference schedule has contributed to the good defensive numbers.
“We’ve done some good things and I like our guys’ attention to detail on the defensive end,” Bone said. “But we have room to improve. No doubt about it.”
The Huskies lack the offensive firepower of recent Washington teams, and they rank last in the conference in field-goal shooting percentage defense at 42.3
(WSU is second at 37.3). Guard C.J. Wilcox leads the Huskies with 18.5 points a game, but he is coming off a 2-for-12 shooting performance at Connecticut.
“There’s not many times (when) C.J. Wilcox goes more than one game without shooting it well,” Bone warns.
The Cougars have a prime-time scorer of their own in 6-foot-10 forward Brock Motum. The reigning Pac-12 scoring champion is averaging 19.7 points, second in the league behind California guard Allen Crabbe (20.9).
“He’s a guard and a big, all in one,” said Romar, who labels Motum “maybe the most versatile player” in the Pac-12.
The Cougars are 7-1 at home, with the lone defeat coming by two points against No. 10 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are the only visiting team that has shot better than 44.2 percent at Beasley.
“I think we’re playing really good defense because we’re committed to defense,” Motum said.
The Huskies, who open league play with three road games, are 2-2 away from Alaska Airlines Arena. Washington has defeated the Cougars in three straight meetings, but all three games were fierce battles. The Huskies have won three of the past four games in Pullman.
“It’s a tough place to go into,” Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy said. “It’s a rivalry, and we want to be dialed in and ready to play against these guys because they’re a really good team.”