December 1, 2007

A challenge on the hardwood

After a poor showing in the Maui Invitational, Oklahoma State was able to take some time off for Thanksgiving and to regroup.

Now, 10 days after the 65-49 loss to Illinois in the third-place game of that tournament, the Cowboys slate doesn't get any easier. At 4:30 this afternoon inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, OSU will take on Washington in the inaugural Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Challenge. The game - just one of 12 between the two power conferences in a four-day span - will be televised nationally by ESPN.

The Huskies (4-2) come to Stillwater after defeating Long Beach State 84-69 on Nov. 26. Their two losses stem from a poor showing in the Preseason NIT in New York, where they lost to No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 21 Syracuse. The Huskies, picked to finish eighth in the 2007-08 Pac-10 Conference media poll, feature zero seniors in the starting lineup. In terms of scoring, the Huskies are led on the court by forward Jon Brockman, who is averaging 18.8 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. The two other main scoring threats in the starting lineup include guard Justin Dentmon (13.8 ppg) and forward Quincy Pondexter (10.2 ppg). Freshman guard Venoy Overton is averaging 5.3 assists a game for UW. They also have a couple of good three-point shooters coming off the bench, as Joel Smith has made nine of 13 tries from beyond the arc, while Joe Wolfinger has made 6-of-12.

No doubt, this is another early-season test for the young Cowboys, who are now 2-3 on the year. After a nice performance against LSU in the first round at Maui, OSU laid two eggs on the island in losses to Marquette and the Fightin' Illini. But today is a chance for OSU to get the bad taste of the Maui trip out of their mouth and pick up a good non-conference win. And if you look ahead to the schedule - tough games against Pittsburgh and Oral Roberts remain in the non-conference slate - this becomes a must-win because, of those three games, this is the only one in Stillwater. ORU is in Oklahoma City and Pittsburgh is on the road. If you can't beat the Huskies inside GIA, can you beat the Golden Eagles or Panthers? A win here and another against ORU gets the Cowboys to 3-3 in this tough batch of non-conference games. Anything less and suddenly you're looking at a very iffy record heading into Big 12 play.

So what needs to happen for the Pokes to get back on the winning track tonight? For starters, save Obi Muonelo from playing the point. He has 11 assists and 18 turnovers. Only one game, at North Texas, did his turnover total not surpass his assists mark - it tied at two apiece. Byron Eaton absolutely has to get on track if the OSU offense is to be consistent this year. Also, Marcus Dove needs to prove that his performances against North Texas (23 points) and LSU (12) were not flukes. Since those games, he's scored a collective eight points. It's tough to admit, but this team might need super freshman James Anderson to keep up that 19.1 ppg average in order to stay competitive.

Today's game will be tough. OSU very well could lose. But this is a chance for the Cowboys to post a much-needed win over a name opponent. If they're able to do that, OSU would have a second nice non-conference win to put on their spring tournament resume. And that's a vital thing for this team to do, with a couple of more tough games this month and the usual rough Big 12 schedule looming.

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