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Cougars Gearing up for Season-Opener

Men's basketball squad to begin 29-game slate against C. Washington.

November 12, 1997

PULLMAN, Wash. - With two exhibition victories already tucked away, the Washington State men's basketball team opens its 29-game regular season schedule with a home contest against Central Washington University Friday, Nov. 14. The non-conference tilt at Friel Court begins at 7 p.m. PST.

A later start to the practice schedule (Oct. 18) combined with an earlier start to the regular season (the Cougars haven't opened this early since a Nov. 11 contest in the 1989-90 campaign) has meant fewer practice opportunities to help blend WSU's six returnees, four newcomers and five walk-ons.

"We want to give our guys enough preparation for the Central Washington game," said Kevin Eastman, WSU's fourth-year head coach. "We are Central Washington's first opponent and we're kind of going in blind."

The WSU-CWU contest is the first of 11 scheduled non-conference games for the Cougars and the first of just three Pullman games until Pacific-10 play when WSU hosts Arizona State January 11.

The Cougars and Wildcats last met Dec. 12, 1994 in Pullman. WSU beat the visitors 104-59 and the 45-point margin of victory was the fourth best for the Cougars since 1933. Prior to that blowout, the two schools had not met in basketball since Washington State beat then Central Washington State College in Ellensburg 45-41 Feb. 16, 1952.

WSU has won 21 of 24 games in the all-time series that started in 1928. Head coach Karl Schaldeman led the 1928 Cougars to three home wins over CWSC. Jack Friel coached the Cougars in the next 20 meetings (17 wins) and Eastman coached WSU to victory in the 24th meeting.

Central Washington is ranked 22nd in the preseason NAIA national poll.

The Cougars disposed of both NBC Thunder (77-72) and Hungary Select (90-79) in exhibition play, but injuries have hindered WSU's development to this point.

Just seven of WSU's ten scholarship players were on the floor against Hungary. Sophomore point guard Blake Pengelly (bone chip, middle finger of left hand) and junior wing Will Hutchens (severe ankle sprain) will be questionable for the Central Washington game and Kojo Mensah-Bonsu (who has been scoped twice this fall) saw his first five-on-five action of the season during Tuesday's practice. He will be doubtful for Friday's competition.

Senior Carlos Daniel led all players with 30 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in the Hungary game. The scoring was balanced against NBC Thunder with senior Rodrigo de la Fuente and sophomore Chris Crosby with 18 points each and Daniel with 16 points.

"Offensively, we've shared the ball well in the two games, but we didn't screen well and we have to be a good screening team," said Eastman. "I did like the way we helped out on defense, but our recovery is not where it needs to be and we don't have consistent pressure on the ball."

The exhibitions provided Eastman a chance to evaluate some of the new talent, especially junior transfers Kab Kazadi and Leif Nelson. "Kab and Leif both got key minutes," Eastman said. "I liked some of the things each player brought to the game, but there is no consistency yet. They're both still learning the system."

Next week the WSU Cougars face the BYU Cougars in Provo, Utah Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Three Dot Notes - Carlos Daniel got his first career start vs. Central Washington as a freshman and finished with nine points, six rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes...Kevin Eastman goes for his 50th victory as Washington State's head coach Friday night vs. Central Washington (he gained one victory when the NCAA declared Cal forfeit the Jan. 25, 1996 game in Pullman for using an ineligible player)...Washington State has won its last eight season openers and its last nine home openers...WSU has won 16 straight against Central Washington...the Cougars haven't lost to Central Washington since a 30-26 loss in Ellensburg Dec. 28, 1933 and haven't lost to the Wildcats in Pullman since a 20-22 defeat Jan. 1, 1929.

Washington State Cougars Cougar Athletic Fund