Cougs return to Beasley

WSU men’s basketball opens season with three home games this week



WSU guard Jefferson Koulibaly (3) makes his entrance during ZZUMania, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in Bohler Gym in Pullman.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen sports editor

WSU men’s basketball kicks off the 2021-22 season this week with a three-game homestand.

The Cougs will first take the court against Alcorn State from Lorman, Mississippi, at noon on Tuesday in Beasley Coliseum. 

This season is WSU head coach Kyle Smith’s third year leading the Cougars. Last year during the adjusted season, Smith led WSU to their first winning record season since 2012 at 14-13, winning seven Pac-12 conference games.

Smith has a solid chance to start the season with a positive record, with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index giving WSU a 94.8 percent chance of winning against Alcorn State.

Alcorn State begins their season with a tour of the Pacific Northwest beginning with Pullman. The Braves then go to Seattle University, Portland University and finish with No.1 Gonzaga in Spokane.

After Alcorn State, the Cougs welcome Seattle University at 7 p.m. on Friday. According to ESPN, WSU is likely to win (77.1 percent). Historically, WSU is 2-1 against the Redhawks. The teams last met in 2019 when the Cougars won at home 85-54. 

Earlier this week, the Seattle University head coach, Jim Hayford, was put on administrative leave after reportedly using racial slurs during summer practices and most recently at a pre-season scrimmage. Chris Victor will take over the helm as the interim head coach for the Redhawks. Victor is a 4-year member of the Seattle University coaching staff.

WSU finishes their first-week homestand with UC Santa Barbara at 8 p.m. on Monday. Again, ESPN projects WSU to win, this time with an 82.7 percent chance of victory. 

The Cougs will likely play with a heavy rotation of players, as is custom to start a season. 

Some of the leaders and names heard most this season for WSU include guard Noah Williams and forwards Efe Abogidi and Andrej Jakimovski.

Williams scored the second-most points per game for the Cougars with 14.1. It has been a bumpy off-season for Williams, who experienced some legal issues after an altercation at a Pullman bar. Even with William’s off-the-court trouble, Smith is confident he will be in Crimson and Gray.

“I don’t know if he’ll be there November 9th, but he could be close to that,” Smith said.

Abogidi had the best inside-the-paint stats with 7.2 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game. Smith is confident that Abogidi will play with the same intensity this year.

“Efe’s missed a lot of time, rehabbing the knee, making sure he’s healthy,” Smith said. “He’s giving sellers a confidence just competing with the Nigerian national team.”

WSU fans are also welcoming Jakimovski back to the Palouse. Before this season, Jakimovski entered the transfer portal but decided to return to the Palouse for his sophomore season. The former 4-star recruit will be a large part of the offensive game plan, playing in 25 games during last year’s season.

To get ready for the season, WSU played Montana in a pre-season scrimmage. Smith disclosed the two teams played three 16-minute halves and said Montana played better during the game, winning two of the three halves.

“They opened our eyes a little bit,” Smith said. “I felt like we were good in areas, that we’re good defensively where we need to be, and some adjustment there, but a lot of room for us to improve.”

One area for improvement this year at WSU is an emphasis on ball handling. Last year, the Cougs averaged 15.3 turnovers per game making the Cougs 301st in turnovers per game of the 347 teams in Division-1 NCAA basketball.

“Our ball-handling should be better,” Smith said. “That’s always been our mantra, defend, rebound, take care of the ball. If we can’t get better taking care of the ball, I’m gonna go see a shrink.”

The first game of the season is at noon on Tuesday in Beasley Coliseum. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.