Cougars to face Huskies in final battle of season

An Apple Cup sweep gives the Cougs a winning record



WSU guard TJ Bamba dunks the ball during an NCAA basketball game against Oregon, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

It was always meant to come down to this. 

The Cougs are on an incredible win streak right now, five straight when that was the only thing that would be enough to get above .500. Now, the Cougs face another tough opponent as they look for six straight. They already beat University of Washington once this season by a score of 56-51, a low-scoring win that did not come easy and kicked off the win streak that is currently going.

Unfortunately, a loss here is not an option. Ending the season on a 5-1 streak is not enough for a winning season. After the UCLA loss, they needed to win out, and they are so close to having done it. A record above .500 hangs in the balance for the Cougs. Had the Huskies beaten Stanford Saturday, this game would be their crux of a .500 season.

While that loss makes this game less meaningful for UW, it still matters quite a bit, as there are potential situations in which a loss could result in them dropping one or two spots in the tournament bracket. Of course, that hinges on several other games, but it is certainly still something being considered by the Huskies.

It was hard enough last time. Now, the Huskies are backed into a corner, and there would be no better feelings for them than to take a winning season away from the Cougs. That energy is what makes this the best rivalry in the Pac-12, and it is what makes this the biggest game of the year for the Cougs.

Now a look back at that Stanford game and the other ones between the first Apple Cup game and this next one. Keion Brooks Jr. has not been held below 11 points since the Cougs held him to 8, and has had performances of 24 and 17 in that time. 

In fact, in all of 2023 so far he has only been held below 10 twice, once against UW and once on New Year’s Day against UCLA. The odds are that he will get his points this time. Shutting down a prolific scorer as the Cougs did in Pullman is hard, and it is much harder to do a second time.

In the meantime, Mouhamed Gueye and TJ Bamba have been on tears of their own. Gueye is averaging 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds over the winning streak, while Bamba has averaged 17.2 points and is shooting 45% from three-point range. Those two can power the offense all by themselves, and if the defense can force UW to turn to players they would rather not turn to the Cougs should be able to win.

One way or another, the Cougs will be in the Pac-12 Tournament after this game. While seeding is not certain yet, it is looking very likely that they will be playing a team they have already beaten, probably Stanford. That would be the dream matchup, as the first day needs to be an easier win if the Cougs are to go deep against one of the best conferences in the country.

Before they worry about that, they need to worry about UW. Tip-off of that game is at 8 p.m. Thursday in Seattle. Fans can watch on ESPNU or the ESPN app.