Washington State hosts Gonzaga Wednesday night at 8 (ESPNU), and the game figures to be a benchmark of sorts for both teams. WSU has generally played the Zags tough, whether the coach was Tony Bennett or Ken Bone.
The teams have split their last six games in the series. That gives increased hope to the Cougars, who would otherwise appear to have a tall task facing what is now the nation’s No. 10 team in Gonzaga.
History can make the case that this could be the toughest test to date for the Zags, who are 8-0 and have mostly swatted aside the competition with ease. WSU is 5-3 — it could easily be 7-1 but for near-misses against Pepperdine and Texas A&M — and is holding opponents to .386 shooting. Brock Motum, the leading scorer in the Pac-12 a year ago, is averaging 18.9 points but the Cougars are shooting only .320 on threes, which will need to improve soon.
The Zags are led by senior forward Elias Harris at 15.9 points a game, but they have five scorers in double figures, and the sixth-leading scorer, guard Gary Bell Jr., probably is their best all-around player.
Now, the six-pack of recent history between the two:
2011-12 — Gonzaga, 89-81. Kevin Pangos introduces himself to the college hoops world by making nine threes, and the Zags build a big lead and hold off the Cougars.
2010-11 — WSU, 81-59. Klay Thompson has a superlative game, with 24 points, 7 steals and 6 assists. The Cougars, hitting 11 of 21 threes, force Gonzaga (25 turnovers) into one of its worst performances in recent years.
2009-10 — Gonzaga, 74-69. It’s Bone’s first game in the series, and he makes the Zags sweat, as WSU leads 39-27 at half. Ultimately, Gonzaga is rescued by Matt Bouldin (28 points) and Harris (24).
2008-09 — Gonzaga, 74-52. The Zags’ last Sweet 16 team has a three-point halftime lead in Pullman but draws away quickly in the second half against Bennett’s last WSU team. Josh Heytvelt leads the way with 22 for GU.
2007-08 — WSU, 51-47. In the consummate defensive grinder, the Cougars outfight the Zags with a team that would go on to make the Sweet 16. Bouldin goes scoreless in 29 minutes on 0-of-9 shooting against Kyle Weaver’s defense, and Gonzaga shoots only 26 percent against the Cougars’ stifling man-to-man.
2006-07 — WSU, 77-67. In what is the first real sign the younger Bennett has it going at WSU after taking over for his dad Dick, WSU makes the plays down the stretch and gets a combined 42 points from Derrick Low and Daven Harmeling. The Cougars hit 11 of 23 threes on their way to a 26-win season.