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by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r &








EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY EAGLES


Last season: 15-15 overall, 9-5 Big Sky Conference (3rd), 1-1 in Big Sky tournament (semifinals)


Preseason polls: Big Sky coaches and media pick Eastern to finish third.


Key returners: 6-5 so. G Rodney Stuckey (24.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.2 spg). 6-10 sr. F Paul Butorac (10.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg); 6-5 jr. F Kellen Williams (8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg).


Key newcomers: 6-4 fr. G Michael Taylor (25.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 6.7 apg at Brewster High School); 6-3 jr. G Marcus Hinton (22.9 ppg at Centralia Community College)


Coach: Mike Burns, 3rd year, 23-35


Scouting report: Everything starts with Stuckey, who led the Big Sky in scoring as a freshman and finished eighth in the nation. His statistics might drop slightly, but he could be even better than a year ago, since he'll usually be manning his natural shooting guard position instead of point guard like last season.


Trivia corner: Stuckey, a rock-solid student at Eastern, wound up in Cheney because the Big Sky -- unlike most elite conferences -- permits partial NCAA academic qualifiers like Stuckey to play following one year of enrollment without competing.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10 at Gonzaga, 5 pm (KHQ 6, KEYF 1050, KGA 1510)


Home opener: Nov. 18 vs. Lewis-Clark State, 7:05 pm (KEYF 1050)


Schedule highlights: At UNLV, Nov. 14; at Washington, Nov. 24; home vs. Montana, Dec. 30


Tickets: (866) 4GO-EAGS


Howie sez: If Stuckey's supporting cast steps up, the Eagles could beat out Montana and Northern Arizona for the Big Sky title and advance to the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history. At any rate, the droves of area fans who can't get a ticket for Gonzaga games should drive out to Cheney to watch Stuckey, whom USC (and former NBA) coach Tim Floyd called the best NBA prospect his team faced last season.








GONZAGA UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS


Last season: 29-4 overall, 14-0 West Coast Conference (1st), 2-0 at WCC tournament (1st), 2-1 in NCAA tournament (Sweet 16)


Preseason polls: 28th in Associated Press (media) Top 25. 26th in USA Today/ESPN (coaches) Top 25. WCC coaches pick Gonzaga to finish first


Key returners: 6-3 sr. G Derek Raivio (11.1 ppg, 2.8 apg). 6-9 sr. F Sean Mallon (6.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg). 6-11 so. F Josh Heytvelt (3.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg). 6-2 so. G Jeremy Pargo (2.7 ppg, 2.0 apg)


Key newcomers: 6-8 so. G Micah Downs (4.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg at Kansas; eligible mid-December). 6-9 jr. Abdullahi Kuso (8.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg at national junior college runner-up Tallahassee, Fla.). 6-5 fr. G Matt Bouldin (25.4 ppg, 4.8 apg as Colorado prep Player of Year)


Coach: Mark Few, 8th year, 188-41


Scouting report: The Bulldogs need former role players to transform themselves into prime-time players to make up for the loss of national scoring champion Adam Morrison (28.1 ppg) and inside dominator J.P. Batista (19.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg). Gonzaga has the benefit of a proven veteran coaching staff headed by Few, who has won more games than any other head coach in Division I history in his first seven years.


Trivia corner: Last season's seniors were Batista, now playing pro ball in Lithuania; Nathan Doudney, a rookie on the pro poker tour; Colin Floyd, an aspiring pro golfer; Stephen Gentry, an aspiring NBA coach or executive who's doing video work for the Miami Heat coaching staff; and Erroll Knight, who's working in Spokane and recovering from another knee operation.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10 at home vs. Eastern Washington, 5 pm (KHQ 6, KGA 1510)


Schedule highlights: Duke on Dec. 21 at Madison Square Garden in New York; Washington on Dec. 9 at home; Memphis on Feb. 17 at Spokane Arena; Rice in the NIT Tip-Off Classic Nov. 14 at Spokane Arena


Tickets: 323-6000


Howie sez: The Bulldogs are good enough to win the WCC for the umpteenth time, but a killer schedule and a lack of star power make a 10th straight 20-win season a lofty goal. Win or lose, Zag Nuts can again catch every game on television if they can't snag a ticket at the forever-sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center.








WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY COUGARS


Last season: 11-17 overall, 4-14 Pacific-10 Conference (last), 0-1 in Pac-10 tournament (first round).


Preseason poll: Pac-10 media pick WSU to finish last.


Key returners: 6-10 jr. F Robbie Cowgill (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg). 6-10 so. C Aron Baynes (5.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg). 6-6 so. G-F Kyle Weaver (8.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.4 spg). 6-2 jr. G Derrick Low (8.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)


Key newcomers: 6-1 so. G Taylor Rochestie (10.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.3 spg at Tulane in 2004-05); 6-2 so. G Mac Hopson (13.7 ppg, 3.8 apg at North Idaho)


Coach: Tony Bennett, 1st year


Scouting report: The Cougars still lack a dominant individual, but many of the core players have been together for three years, and they should play looser now that mondo-demanding coach Dick Bennett has retired. Bennett installed much-needed discipline and direction during his three years at the helm, but his fiery tirades were falling on deaf ears toward the end.


Trivia corner: Tony Bennett's only previous head coaching experience came in a low-key pro league in New Zealand. He spent part of his time in New Zealand as a player-coach after three years as a player in the NBA.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10, vs. Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) at the John Thompson Foundation Classic in Milwaukee, 3 pm PST (KXLY 920)


Home opener: Nov. 17 vs. Texas-San Antonio, 8:30 pm (KXLY 920)


Schedule highlights: Washington, Jan. 20 at home and Feb. 14 in Seattle; Gonzaga at home, Dec. 5; Boise State at Spokane Arena, Nov. 25.


Tickets: (800) GO-COUGS


Howie sez: The Cougars rarely got outworked under Dick Bennett, but son Tony plans to coach and recruit with more emphasis on offense than his dad to try to halt WSU's string of 10 losing seasons. The younger Bennett realizes that college players grow up watching people dunk and drain 3-pointers on ESPN, not fighting through picks and blocking out on the boards.








UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO vandals


Last season: 4-25 overall, 1-15 Western Athletic Conference (last), 0-1 at WAC tournament (first round).


Preseason polls: WAC coaches and media pick Idaho to finish last.


Key returners: 5-10 sr. G Keoni Watson (10.4 ppg, 2.5 apg); 6-8 jr. F Mike Kale (6.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg)


Key newcomers: 6-7 jr. F Michael Crowell (21.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg at Central Arizona JC); 6-7 jr. F Clyde Johnson (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg at Northeastern, Colo., JC); 5-10 jr. G Mario Mackey (14 ppg, 7 apg at Otero, Colo., JC)


Coach: George Pfeifer, 1st year (296-208 in 16 years at Lewis-Clark State)


Scouting report: Pfeifer cleaned house after one year as Leonard Perry's assistant, yanking scholarships right and left from players who were sorely lacking in Division I skills. The result is a far more athletic team loaded with junior college transfers, and it will take time for personalities and talents to mesh.


Trivia corner: Pfeifer is a rarity, a Division I men's basketball coach who once coached a college women's team (Rocky Mountain in Billings, Mont.).


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10, at home vs. North Dakota State (KVNI 1080)


Schedule highlights: Boise State, Jan. 27 at home and Feb. 7 at Boise; at Gonzaga, Nov. 26; at Washington, Nov. 29; Washington State, at home Dec. 9


Tickets: (888) 884-3246


Howie sez: The Vandals can't possibly be worse than last season, but an eighth straight losing season is a virtual lock. Pfeifer can't be blamed for the massive influx of JC players because a) the Vandals were light years removed from competing in the WAC and b) JC players have been vital to all good Idaho teams (remember them?) since the Don Monson days.











WOMEN's teams





GONZAGA UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS


Last season: 16-14 overall, 11-3 West Coast Conference (tied for 1st), 0-1 WCC tournament (first round)


Preseason poll: WCC coaches pick Gonzaga to finish third.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10, at home vs. Utah, 8 pm (KGA 1510)


Outlook: The WCC is an underwhelming women's conference, and the Bulldogs could advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time if a large group of new faces can lend support to capable seniors like All-WCC pick Stephanie Hawk. A 6-3 forward-post, Hawk averaged 12.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 1.5 bpg, and she shot 44 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range (11 for 27) and 72 percent at the free-throw line. San Diego State transfer Michelle Elliott, a 5-11 guard from Pasco, averaged 12 points in two seasons with the Aztecs.





WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY COUGARS


Last season: 8-20 overall, 2-16 Pacific-10 Conference (last); 0-1 in Pac-10 tournament (first round).


Preseason poll: Pac-10 coaches pick WSU to finish last.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10 at Kentucky, 5 pm PST. Home opener: Nov. 17 vs. Sacramento State, 4:30 pm.


Outlook: The Cougars are more athletic, but you can bank on losing season No. 11 in a row. WSU has finished last in the Pac-10 six of the past seven seasons, posting a stunningly horrific 9-117 (.077) conference record over that span. The Cougars are led by 6-2 senior forward Kate Benz (9.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg), the Pac-10 rebounding leader two years running. WSU is playing five true freshmen for the second straight year, and that won't cut it in a conference that is one of the nation's best.





EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY EAGLES


Last season: 13-15 overall, 7-7 Big Sky Conference (tied for fourth), 0-1 at Big Sky tournament (first round).


Preseason polls: Big Sky coaches pick Eastern to finish sixth. Big Sky media pick Eastern to tie Portland State for fifth.


Season opener: Friday, Nov. 10, vs. Montana Tech, 2:05 pm at Spokane Community College.


Outlook: The Eagles likely will struggle to score. Senior guard JoAnna Chadd, the co-Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, is the top returning scorer with 9.1 ppg. Southern Utah transfer Katy Baker, a former Lewis and Clark High School standout, will help at the wing. The Eagles are sorely lacking in experience up front, but redshirt freshman center Tara Holgate isn't lacking for height -- she's one of the tallest players in the women's ranks at 6-foot-5.





UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO vandals


Last season: 10-19 overall, 5-11 Western Athletic Conference (tied for 7th), 0-1 at WAC tournament (first round).


Preseason poll: WAC coaches pick Idaho to finish eighth.


Season opener: Tuesday, Nov. 14 at Portland, 7 pm


Outlook: Honorable mention All-American point guard Leilani Mitchell became the latest in a long, long, long line of women to quit the Vandals when she made the highly unusual move of transferring as a senior. While Mitchell is redshirting at Utah (mandatory for NCAA Division I basketball transfers), the Vandals figure to struggle mightily in their second year in the WAC. Idaho loaded up on junior college transfers to try to cover for the loss of Mitchell (17.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.0 spg) and former NCAA scoring champion Emily Faurholt (17.4 ppg). Jessica Summers, a 6-1 post, led Idaho in rebounding (7.5) last season and is the top returning scorer (9.0 ppg).

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