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January 26, 2011

Guards in spotlight in Washington's basketball rivalry

There will be more than just a cross-state sports rivalry between the Washington State Cougars and Washington Huskies when the men's basketball teams meet up in Pullman Sunday.

There will be a little personal rivalry as well.

Personal egos may be tested when two of the Pacific-10 Conference's top players go head-to-head to prove their worth.

Guards Isaiah Thomas of the Huskies and Klay Thompson of the Cougars, along with Arizona forward Derrick Williams, are all in consideration for the conference player of the year honors, which may ignite an elevated need to win attitude in Sunday's game.

"I don't think either team is going to hold anything back," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Wednesday.

Adding fuel to the fire were some less than flattering comments about the Huskies, and in particular Thomas, made by the 6-foot-6 Thompson on KJR 950-AM radio this past week.

"I laughed at it," the 5-9 Thomas said in response. "We'll see who wins come Sunday. He can say what he wants."

Thomas, recently named Pac-10 player of the week for the second time this season, leads the conference in assists and is third in scoring.

The 18th-ranked Huskies, in first place in the conference with a 7-1 record and 15-4 mark overall, expect the Cougars (14-6, 4-4) to bring their A-game.

Thompson, in particular, may be a major roadblock to Husky success.

The WSU junior leads the Pac-10 in scoring, averaging over 22 points per game, and also ranks among the leaders for assists, steals, and 3-point shot capabilities.

"He's an all-around good basketball player," Romar said.

WSU coach Ken Bone, a former UW assistant coach to Romar, is in his second season at Washington State. And, although both teams run a fast tempo, don't expect Bone's coaching style to mirror Romar's.

"He does it his own way," Romar said.

One of the fundamental differences between the teams, according to Romar, is that the Huskies defensively like to pressure the ball more than the Cougars.

However, Romar does credit WSU with playing a better defensive game than it has in previous years.

"They contest more shots," he said.

Although the hardwood version of the Apple Cup, a rivalry that dates back to 1910, continues to evoke strong emotions from both the schools and fans, Romar doesn't believe a single game holds any more importance than another when teams are ultimately fighting for a championship.

Even if there happens to be more hype around a certain matchup, such as Sunday's rivalry, "every game is a big deal," he said.

Whether or not for personal reasons, Thomas doesn't entirely agree.

"This is a huge game," he said.

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