By John Helsley
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Oh, boy, another road challenge for the Cowboys.
And way out west, at Washington State, reminding of OSU’s botched trip to Gonzaga earlier this season, a hint of what the Cowboys would become in enemy gyms.
This time, however, there are definite carrots dangling out in front.
* A return home to Gallagher-Iba Arena to play Northwestern; not to mention one final fling for OSU’s seniors – Marshall Moses, Matt Pilgrim and Nick Sidorakis – who would relish another Senior Night.
* Extending their NIT run, with that game against Northwestern for a spot in the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden. As Matt Pilgrim pointed out, it’s for a ring!
Cowboys coach Travis Ford has wanted this chance, despite OSU’s rocky road record. And he’s not backing off now.
“I think it all goes back to wanting to win, period,” Ford said. “But road games, I’ve always told my teams, are the greatest challenges in all sports. Trying to go onto somebody else’s field or court or whatever it may be is the greatest challenge.
“Any time you go try and win one on the road is rewarding. Obviously, we haven’t done that too well this year.”
Maybe tonight. Late tonight.
If you hoped for a move to the Pac-10 when all that conference flirting was going on, this is a taste of what you’d have for basketball.
Long-distance travel and games past your bedtime, let alone your kid’s bedtime.
How do you like it now?
Can the Cowboys win tonight? Sure.
If they can solve the road.
1. Road Rage. We’ve discussed this for months now – and again above – but the Cowboys are just a different club on the road. Just look at the Bedlam game in Norman. Maybe they gained something from back-to-back good games in the Big 12 Tournament, on a neutral floor, mind you, although Sprint Center sure looked like Allen Field House East. WSU had just 4,213 in the stands for its opening NIT win over Long Beach State, but expects many more with students back on campus from spring break. If OSU can manage what figures to be a pretty rowdy environment, it’s got a chance.
2. Come Together. Doesn’t it seem like this reduced roster has produced better chemistry? Maybe tightening things up has brought the Cowboys together. But there have been times in the last few weeks when OSU actually looked like decent team. Matt Pilgrim is playing with more passion, and producing. Reger Dowell adds an explosive element at the point. Those wild cards, combined with Keiton Page, Marshall Moses, Jéan-Paul Olukemi, Markel Brown and Nick Sidorakis have given the Cowboys a glossier new look late.
3. Mold Klay. Washington State guard Klay Thompson is the Pac-10’s leading scorer, a legitimate threat who can dominate a game. Who handles him? The Cowboys don’t have anything resembling a lockdown defender, but have had some luck with Brown and Olukemi on athletic guys Thompson’s size. The challenge will be in forcing Thompson into shots he doesn’t want to take.
4. Rely on Reger. The Reger Dowell experiment continues, mostly to positive results. And Dowell is one Cowboy who hasn’t been overwhelmed on the road so far. If he can keep the offense moving, while providing a take-it-to-the-rim threat, everything will run more smoothly. If Page has to handle the point for an extended time, the offense suffers.
5. Get Home. That should read, get home with a purpose. Suddenly, the Cowboys carry a realistic shot of making it to Madison Square Garden. Northwestern’s upset of No. 1-seed Boston College allowed for a quarterfinal home game at Gallagher-Iba Arena – if OSU wins tonight. And at home, inside GIA, the Cowboys would be favored. And let’s not forget, they’ve done well against the so-called “smart” schools this season, already owning wins over Stanford and Harvard. Why not Northwestern, too?