Men’s Basketball: Pitt, Washington State to face off in CBI finals

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s basketball team didn’t plan on playing the Washington State Cougars once this… The Pitt men’s basketball team didn’t plan on playing the Washington State Cougars once this season, let alone three times.

But the Panthers (20-16) and Cougars (18-16) will meet this week in the best-of-three College Basketball Invitational championship series. Pitt will play the Cougars in Pullman, Wash., at Beasley Coliseum tonight at 10 p.m., then the series shifts to the Petersen Events Center for games Wednesday and, if necessary, Friday.

It’s an unfamiliar situation for both schools in more ways than one. Pitt hasn’t traveled to Pullman since 1982 — before the current members of the team were born — and the program has never played Washington State at Beasley Coliseum.

The Cougars, meanwhile, have never played at the Petersen Events Center. The only meeting between the two teams came in a neutral-site Legends Classic game in Newark in 2008, which Pitt won, 57-43.

And neither team has ever played a best-of-three series.

“It’s obviously something different that we’ve never been involved in,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said Friday. “I’ve talked to teams that have played in this [best-of-three] situation, and they liked the setup. Of course, I talked to the guys that won, so that might have had something to do with it.”

Dixon said that for Pitt, the only previous schedule close to resembling the CBI championship format came in Big East play, when the Panthers played St. John’s twice in one week this season and West Virginia twice in nine days in 2010.

Both teams must cope with the cross-country travel schedule that arises with the best-of-three series. Washington State didn’t travel east of Kansas City during the regular season. Pitt, meanwhile, returned home from Butler Friday morning and flew to Spokane Saturday night, practicing at Gonzaga Sunday.

There isn’t much time for either team to prepare.

“Right now I haven’t watched much film,” Pitt point guard Travon Woodall said Friday. “I haven’t really gotten the chance to watch them. I think I watched one game, when they played Oregon State at home.”

Dixon said Friday that Washington State runs more zone than it did in 2008 under former coach Tony Bennett, when Pitt shot 35.4 percent from the floor in a hard-fought, low-scoring game.

For Washington State, freshman guard DaVonte Lacy said Cougar practices have been quick and to the point.

“This hasn’t been one of the mid-year practices where we’re going hard all the time,” he said Saturday. “It’s more get in, get what we have to get done, get out and rest. A lot of us are beat up.”

One of Washington State’s beat-up players is leading scorer Brock Motum, who averages 18 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He sprained his ankle two minutes into the Cougars’ CBI semifinal game against Oregon State.

Washington State head coach Ken Bone said Motum is questionable for Monday’s game.

“I think there’s a chance, but a very slim chance,” Bone said Saturday, adding that the chances are greater that Motum plays Wednesday.

X-rays taken during the Oregon State game were negative.

“We’re just trying to get the swelling down. Then it’ll be good,” Motum said Saturday. “Right now, it’s all iced up, so it’s numb. I can’t feel anything. It’s not like it’s excruciating pain or anything.”

Dixon said he is familiar with Motum from the 2009 FIBA Under-19 World Championship, in which Motum played for Australia and Dixon coached the United States.

“A lot of those guys are popping up in college over the years,” Dixon said.

Washington State senior guard Faisal Aden (14.5 points per game) is also out. He suffered a season-ending torn ACL at Arizona on Jan. 28.

If Motum misses Monday’s game, junior guard Reggie Moore and senior forward Abe Lodwick will be the Cougars’ top weapons against Pitt. Lodwick and Moore had 23 and 22 points, respectively, in Washington State’s 72-55 win over Oregon State on Wednesday.

In Pitt’s three CBI wins, Woodall, Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore have carried the team. Dixon said that the increase in touches and plays for the trio isn’t because he is phasing out seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson — it’s just that the younger players have matured.

“Lamar, over the last couple games, we’re running more plays for him, more sets. I think he’s just gotten better as the year has gone on,” Dixon said. “He’s shooting the ball better. He’s making plays for other guys and staying out of foul trouble, too.”

Patterson has averaged 15 points in CBI games. Woodall said that the 6-foot-5 sophomore reminds him of former Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker, except with more size.

“Running the offense through him is like running the offense through Brad. Plus now you have a point guard that actually passes the ball, and it’s a good look for next year,” Woodall said. “Lamar is probably one of the most versatile players I’ve come across. He can play two through four [positions]. Maybe he could’ve played the five against Butler.”

Moore missed Saturday’s practice due to a family emergency, but Dixon said that he will not miss any games.