Cougars Come to Town

Only rarely is the fourth game of a conference season a big game, but Cal's home game with WSU at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night at Haas Pavilion fits the bill. The Cougars are the surprise team in the Pac-10, and have become a national story. Tony Bennett's team comes into Haas ranked 23rd in the country, and are coming off a huge 77-73 overtime win over Arizona in Pullman on Saturday night.

The big question is what has turned a team that went 11-17 last year into a nationally ranked 14-2 squad. The most obvious difference is on the sideline. 37-year old Tony Bennett has taken over the reins from his father Dick. The younger Bennett is a strong candidate for national coach of the year. The new coach has maintained many of the aspects of Cougar basketball that made playing WSU such a grind - but has ditched his father's sweater-vest look.

Cal managed to win both games last year by two points, but both were about as entertaining as a visit to the dentist. Washington State still defends as well as anyone. They're allowing just 58 points per game, first in the conference. Opponents are shooting 41% from the floor against the Cougs.

On the offensive end, Bennett has made some adjustments. WSU is scoring 68 points per game, just about 10 points more than last year. Cal coach Ben Braun cited "earlier offense" as a contributing factor. Last year the Cougars ran the shot clock down on almost every possession. This season they are attacking more, using dribble penetration, and not waiting as long to get into their offense.

Looking at individuals, both Braun and Ayinde Ubaka recognized the improved play of point guard Derrick Low as a major factor. Ubaka said, "He's real good. I think he's the most improved player in the Pac-10. He's light years ahead of where he was last year." Low leads WSU in scoring at 14.4 ppg.

Braun also noted the contributions of Kyle Weaver, possibly WSU's most athletic player, and post Robbie Cowgill. Redshirt sophomore Daven Harmeling torched Arizona on Saturday with a career high 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting behind the arc.

For Cal to prevail, they will need to play with the confidence that they showed at Maples last week. Ubaka said, "We have to stick to our principles, offensively and defensively."

That can be difficult, as the Cougars always test a team's patience and focus. You can't take quick shots against the Cougars, because of their ability to control the tempo. The Bears will also need to do a better job on the boards than they did at Stanford. They will need to keep Ivory Clark off the boards. As Ubaka said, "You're not going to win many games giving up 21 offensive rebounds."

Coach Braun said the team needs to focus on positioning and being quicker to the ball. He also suggested that if they can get out on the break, teams might be reluctant to crash the boards. A few easy transition buckets might help the rebounding situation.

We'll know more about this Cal team late on Thursday night. As Braun said, "It's going to be a hell of a challenge." Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. at Haas, and with no television coverage it's a good opportunity to come out and see what should be a very interesting college basketball game.


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The big question is what has turned a team that went 11-17 last year into a nationally ranked 14-2 squad. The most obvious difference is on the sideline. 37-year old Tony Bennett has taken over the reins from his father Dick. The younger Bennett is a strong candidate for national coach of the year. The new coach has maintained many of the aspects of Cougar basketball that made playing WSU such a grind - but has ditched his father's sweater-vest look.

Cal managed to win both games last year by two points, but both were about as entertaining as a visit to the dentist. Washington State still defends as well as anyone. They're allowing just 58 points per game, first in the conference. Opponents are shooting 41% from the floor against the Cougs.

On the offensive end, Bennett has made some adjustments. WSU is scoring 68 points per game, just about 10 points more than last year. Cal coach Ben Braun cited \"earlier offense\" as a contributing factor. Last year the Cougars ran the shot clock down on almost every possession. This season they are attacking more, using dribble penetration, and not waiting as long to get into their offense.

Looking at individuals, both Braun and Ayinde Ubaka recognized the improved play of point guard Derrick Low as a major factor. Ubaka said, \"He's real good. I think he's the most improved player in the Pac-10. He's light years ahead of where he was last year.\" Low leads WSU in scoring at 14.4 ppg.

Braun also noted the contributions of Kyle Weaver, possibly WSU's most athletic player, and post Robbie Cowgill. Redshirt sophomore Daven Harmeling torched Arizona on Saturday with a career high 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting behind the arc.

For Cal to prevail, they will need to play with the confidence that they showed at Maples last week. Ubaka said, \"We have to stick to our principles, offensively and defensively.\"

That can be difficult, as the Cougars always test a team's patience and focus. You can't take quick shots against the Cougars, because of their ability to control the tempo. The Bears will also need to do a better job on the boards than they did at Stanford. They will need to keep Ivory Clark off the boards. As Ubaka said, \"You're not going to win many games giving up 21 offensive rebounds.\"

Coach Braun said the team needs to focus on positioning and being quicker to the ball. He also suggested that if they can get out on the break, teams might be reluctant to crash the boards. A few easy transition buckets might help the rebounding situation.

We'll know more about this Cal team late on Thursday night. As Braun said, \"It's going to be a hell of a challenge.\" Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. at Haas, and with no television coverage it's a good opportunity to come out and see what should be a very interesting college basketball game.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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