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Washington State vs. Gonzaga: 'Battle For The Inland Northwest'

The last battle Gonzaga University took part in didn't go so well - its 73-61 loss to Illinois in KeyArena for the Battle In Seattle on Saturday looked worse than the score suggested and resulted in high preseason expectations for the Bulldogs giving way to a slide out of the national rankings.

And as captured in raw form by Zach Bell of the Slipper Still Fits it felt even worse in the context of Gonzaga's start to the 2010-11 season.

Blood in the water - The Slipper Still Fits
The title of this article may seem a bit over the top and intense but Gonzaga is walking wounded. What's worse is that they are wounded and about to hit to hit the road against two teams most of us expected wins against before the season. A little under a month into the season, however, it is remarkably clear that both Washington State and Notre Dame are playing better basketball than our beloved Zags. With a 4-3 record and these two teams coming up this week, you almost have to brace yourself as a Gonzaga fan for what could be on the horizon.

So now that sets up another battle for that Gonzaga fans probably didn't expect to hold as much significance as it does: a trip to play 5-1 Washington State for what Max Mandel of the Slipper Still Fits has coined "the Battle For The Inland Northwest".

Key statistical battleground: shooting efficiency

Both teams have shot the ball extremely well, although as Craig Powers of CougCenter describes in his Four Factors Preview, Gonzaga's efficiency thus far might hold a bit more weight coming into this matchup.

GONZAGA VS. WSU: Four Factors Preview - CougCenter
Both teams have shot the ball very well. WSU has the advantage in defensive and offensive eFG%, but that can be largely attributed to their much easier schedule.

Both teams shot very poorly against Kansas State, but WSU did a much better job defensively. Gonzaga loves to play zone, and with Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore, Faisal Aden, and Patrick Simon, I like WSU's chances to make them pay on the outside.

Advantage: WSU

So this is obviously a huge opportunity for WSU to prove just how strong they are as a scoring team. And that will start with Klay Thompson.

Key players:

Washington State: Klay Thompson, G (6-foot-6, 202, Jr.)

As described by Powers in his preview, Thompson has been playing well this season and that 35 points he hung on Portland that helped him win Pac-10 Player of the Week for the week of Nov. 22 - 28 still stands as a pretty strong example of what he's capable of. And it has Mandel frightened.

The Battle for the Inland Northwest...Hopefully It Goes Better Than the Battle In Seattle - The Slipper Still Fits
I honestly have no idea how this team can come together and slow down Klay Thompson, especially with a healthy Reggie Moore now available for the Cougs to help complement guys like Marcus Capers and Faisal Aden. Frankly, it will take an actual team performance to get a win, and I have seen no proof this team is capable of coming together and delivering what is required to beat a very strong Washington State team.

Gonzaga: Robert Sacre, C (7-foot-0, 260, Jr.)

One major advantage that Gonzaga has is its offensive rebounding where it has been getting over 10 percent more of the available offensive rebounds than its opponents, whereas WSU has been outplayed on the offensive glass.

So although Steven Gray and Elias Harris will get a lot of attention, Sacre could be a key figure in this game if the Bulldogs are to impose their will on the boards.