A new men's basketball coach has not yet inspired Washington State’s fan base.
The Cougars once again rank last in the Pac-12 for attendance with an average of 2,216 fans showing up for their 10 home games so far under first-year coach Kyle Smith. That’s a drop from the 2,318 who showed up for Ernie Kent’s last season at Beasley Coliseum.
“That has always been a tough place for us to play for whatever reason so we are going to have to play well,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said as the eighth-ranked Ducks (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) prepare to visit WSU (10-7, 1-3) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Oregon has dropped two of its last four games at WSU with an average attendance of 2,894 during those games.
“Sometimes when the crowd isn’t there, it does have a different affect on you,” Altman said. “Guys look at it as not as big of a game and obviously it is one of 18, so just as big as any other game.”
Oregon will be favored to stretch its winning streak to four games in a row when it visits the Cougars, who were swept by California and Stanford last week. Smith has Washington State in contention to finish above .500 overall for the first time since 2011-12.
“They won some games in the nonconference and that helps,” Altman said. “That is why it is so important when you have 12 teams in the conference that everyone pulls their weight. In nonconference games, I’m rooting for everybody to win. This year our league did much better in nonconference, which will help us overall.”
Altman will face off for the first time against Smith, who spent six years at Columbia before going 63-40 during the last three seasons at San Francisco.
“They really execute their stuff, they are patient and do a good job,” Altman said. “They had a big win over UCLA at home so we are going to have to be prepared to play.”
WSU’s lone conference win was 79-71 in overtime over the Bruins, who are tied for the worst overall record in the conference at 8-8. There’s not a quality win on the resume of the Cougars, whose nonconference schedule included victories over Incarnate Word, Florida A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Sophomore CJ Elleby leads the Cougars with 18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He averaged 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in two games against the Ducks last season.
“He’s really talented and scores in a lot of different ways,” Altman said of Elleby. “He’s a good young player that can shoot the 3 and get to the rim and post up a bit.”
Oregon freshman C.J. Walker will be a game-time decision after missing the past three games with a back injury.
Oregon’s frontcourt has been in flux during the past few weeks with Walker and Shakur Juiston each missing time due to injury, N’Faly Dante being declared ineligible until Dec. 14 and Addison Patterson getting sporadic playing time.
“We haven’t come up with a rotation or defined roles and we’ve got to do that sooner or later,” Altman said. “It is still a work in progress every day in practice figuring out who is going to bring it every day and what we can do to mix and match guys and combinations we want to play.
"One of the problems is that we have not been able to spread the floor as much as we typically do because we have not been getting any shooting from the bigs. We have a couple months still to figure it out, but I’d sure it be sooner than later.”