WSU heads to Eugene for first leg of Oregon roadtrip

Cougars previously lost six games in a row before beating Washington Sunday in first leg of 2021 Apple Cup matchups



Senior guard Isaac Bonton led WSU in points and assists with 25 and four in win over Washington.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

For the first time in the Kyle Smith-era, the Cougars will travel to face the Oregon Ducks at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon.

WSU (10-7, 3-7) comes off a road win against the Washington Huskies last Saturday in the first leg of the 2021 Apple Cup series. This victory of course snapped a six-game losing streak the Cougars had throughout the majority of January.

Senior guard Isaac Bonton and sophomore guard Noah Williams agreed the team’s defensive performance on Sunday was the difference-maker in the win.

“I feel like if we keep playing the way we played [on Sunday], we should get a lot more wins,” Williams said following Sunday’s victory. “Defense wins everything.”

WSU now has some momentum following them as the Cougars make a trip to the Oregon schools this week.

The Cougars played the Ducks (9-3, 4-2) just once last season, but it was in Pullman. The Ducks ranked No. 8 in the AP polls at the time and it was WSU’s first victory over a top-10 opponent since 2007 and just the third time ever.

Now the Cougars face a Ducks team that has had another productive season, but the team faces COVID-19 issues. Oregon had a total of six games canceled due to players or staff members testing positive.

The Ducks were formerly ranked this season, at one point reaching 17th in the country on Jan. 4. Oregon hasn’t been ranked in the past two weeks ever since missing a handful of games because of COVID-19.

Oregon hasn’t played since Jan. 23 versus Oregon State. WSU head coach Kyle Smith said he and his staff will still prepare for the game as if the game was scheduled as planned. If a cancelation arises, the team will figure out how to adjust from there.

“Until I’m told that we’re not playing, then I’ll adjust,” Smith said. “It rattles you out, it’s tough, everyone’s dealing with it.”

Smith said the Ducks have a similar personnel situation to the Huskies in terms of length and height. Smith compared Oregon to Colorado’s level of talent, but the difference being that the Buffaloes have a lot of experience playing with each other, while the Ducks do not.

However, Smith gives the edge to Oregon in terms of overall talent at the forward position. For that reason, Smith said the Cougars will try and establish a similar game plan that they used against the Huskies.

“They’re rangier, longer, they going to press you. They’ll try to turn you over,” Smith said. “We got to be good with the ball, we haven’t been good with the ball. It irks me, it bothers me.”

After losing former Oregon guard Payton Pritchard this past offseason, the Ducks tried to fill the void with senior guard Chris Duarte. Duarte leads the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game, which ranks third in the conference – just behind Cougar senior guard Isaac Bonton.

Duarte is joined by three other teammates who average double-digit points, including senior forward Eugene Omoruyi who averages 16.8 points per game. Smith referred to Omoruyi as one of the best players in the conference in his weekly press conference.

Omoruyi is a transfer from Rutgers this season and did not play the Cougars in last year’s matchup. Duarte, on the other hand, did play in last year’s game and he finished with 15 points. Considering that Duarte only had one single-digit scoring performance so far this season, it’s fair to say he’ll be quite the contributor for Oregon on Thursday.

Historically, WSU hasn’t fared well against Oregon on the road, as the Cougars have not won in Eugene since 2009. Once again, WSU goes into a game as the underdog according to ESPN. The Ducks are listed as a 13-point favorite for Thursday’s game.

Tip-off will commence at 8 p.m. Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. Fans will not be allowed to attend but the game will air on FS1.