WSU men ready to face former teammate in Apple Cup

Feb. 9—As if playing their biggest rival wasn't enough motivation, there's a little extra spice added to this year's Apple Cup series between the Washington State and Washington men's basketball teams.

Former Cougar guard Noah Williams flipped allegiances and went to the proverbial dark side this past offseason when he ditched the crimson and gray in Pullman for a purple uniform in his hometown of Seattle.

Williams and the Huskies (13-12, 5-9 Pac-12) face WSU (10-15, 5-9) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Network) at Beasley Coliseum.

"I mentioned it yesterday," WSU coach Kyle Smith said of the elephant in the room. "It's obviously going to be an emotional game for both teams. Your former teammate (coming in) and Noah's pretty boisterous."

Williams' conversion

It seems like it was eons ago when Williams silenced a rowdy Seattle crowd with a pair of game-clinching free throws and shouts of "This is my city" as a Wazzu freshman in 2020.

How ironic that those same fans who chanted "U-Dub reject" now cheer on Williams as a Husky.

The senior guard this season has only played in about half of Washington's games, but is averaging 9.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per contest.

Williams enjoyed a stellar sophomore campaign at WSU in 2020-21 when the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game en route to All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

But Williams saw decreased production and playing time during his junior year, averaging 9.5 points and shooting just 33.2 percent from the floor last season.

So Williams, an O'Dea High School product in the heart of Seattle, decided to return home for his senior campaign. He's played in 12 games this season, starting 10 of them, averaging 9.0 points and 3.1 rebounds an outing.

The two teams, however, will try not to let his return to Beasley be a distraction.

"It's just about us, it's about team vs. team and I'm sure (Washington coach) Mike (Hopkins) is saying the same thing to his team," Smith said.

Return of Rodman, Darling

The Cougars welcome back the return of senior forward DJ Rodman and freshman guard Dylan Darling this week from an illness that kept them out of a pair of losses to USC and UCLA last week.

Rodman is the team's fourth-leading scorer (9.2 points, 5.5 rebounds) and one of the league's premier defenders. Darling (2.2 points) has been a key defender and ball-handler off the bench.

Smith said the two are back at practice this week, but it'll take some time to get their conditioning back.

"It'll be nice to get healthy," Smith said. "As far as depth, we need everybody for the Huskies."

Big picture

WSU and Washington are tied for eighth in the conference standings and a win would go a long way if either team is going to get a postseason tournament berth.

The rivalry series has been evenly matched the past several years with the Cougs winning four of the previous six games but the Huskies owning a 6-4 advantage in the last 10 since 2018.

The teams have split the series each of the past two years.

Washington is led this season by senior forward Keion Brooks, who is far-and-away the team's leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, good for No. 2 in the Pac-12.

Wazzu is paced by the 1-2 punch of explosive guard TJ Bamba (14.4 points) and skilled forward Mouhamed Gueye (13.7 points, 8.2 rebounds).

"It'll be a fun environment," Smith said. "It's a rivalry game and it's kinda what makes college sports fun. We'll do our best."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.