First leg of Apple Cup begins

Cougars hope senior guard Isaac Bonton will return after missing last game



Senior guard Isaac Bonton goes up for a right-handed layup over a defender.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

WSU men’s basketball has one more opportunity to get themselves out of their six-game losing streak when they face the University of Washington for the first leg of the 2021 Apple Cup series at 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle.

The Cougars (9-7, 2-7) swept the Huskies (3-11, 2-7) in last year’s series with a pair of good performances from former WSU forward CJ Elleby. This year the Huskies started very cold but have turned things around and put together a two-game win streak over Colorado and Utah, both teams that WSU lost to last week.

WSU head coach Kyle Smith said he’s recognized a recent change in the Huskies’ zone defense and some of the players are more comfortable.

“They’re hard to guard one on one,” Smith said. “It seems like they’ve figured some things out.”

Senior guard Isaac Bonton was unable to play against the Buffaloes last Wednesday due to a non-COVID-19-related illness. Bonton did not travel with the team but should be good to go on Sunday, Smith said.

Sophomore guard Noah Williams did play against Colorado but reportedly vomited at halftime in the locker room. When asked if there’s a bug going around the team, Smith said he’s not sure but tipped his hat to Williams fighting through the sick feeling throughout the game. Williams finished the game with 15 points, which led the team.

Freshman guard TJ Bamba, who had a breakout game against Colorado on Wednesday, said he’s excited to play on Sunday, but he’s more excited to get the opportunity for a win.

“We’ve been losing so we all want to get back onto the winning side of things,” Bamba said. “So we can’t wait to get another opportunity to play and win. That’s all we’re focusing on now.”

Freshman center Dishon Jackson has scored double-digit points in three of his last four games. In the one game he didn’t achieve this feat, he played limited minutes and was out of the starting lineup due to a shoulder stinger.

Jackson said he’s definitely getting more comfortable in his position as of late, facing against some of the conference’s best big men. It’s primarily due to his mindset when he’s in the game, he added.

“I know I belong here with these people, I got recruited by this staff because they wanted me here and they know I belong with this group of elite bigs. I’m just showing why I belong here.” Jackson said.

The Huskies’ top five scorers this season all happen to be guards. The guard in the fifth spot, Nate Pryor, hasn’t played since Jan. 9 against Cal, and he will likely not play against the Cougars on Sunday. But one of the Huskies’ top scorers, Jamal Bey, is coming off a great performance against Utah last Sunday where he scored 28 points on 10 for 11 shooting, which included four three-pointers.

Although Quade Green is still UW’s highest scorer, averaging around 15 points per game, Bey will be an impactful player for WSU to match up against.

UW’s top rebounder, Nate Roberts, is the inside presence that will shift this game for the Huskies. Roberts is the only Husky that averages over five rebounds per game, and he reigns as UW’s go-to starting center. UW comes into this game as one of the worst rebounding schools in the nation, ranking 319th in rebounds per game as a team.

However, the most intimidating aspect of Roberts’ game is his size, as he stands 6-foot-11 and weighs over 260 pounds.

Considering that Utah’s Branden Carlson and Colorado’s Evan Battey gave WSU problems in the past three games for the Cougars, Roberts will likely be a challenge as he has a hybrid of Carlson’s height and Battey’s size. Needless to say, Roberts’ inside presence will shift the WSU interior defense considerably.

The Cougars will likely try to avoid matching up freshman center Efe Abogidi against Roberts, as his size isn’t comparable to Roberts’. Expect to see Jackson or sophomore center Volodymyr Markovetskyy match up against Roberts frequently to mitigate his inside presence and rebounding ability.