Conquering WSU's defense key for Vandy

SACRAMENTO-- Got defense? Washington State does. Vanderbilt will face one of the nation's toughest defenses today when they collide with Pac-10's 26-7 Cougars. Forget the blow out of George Washington; they are not in the league defensively as the No. 3 seeded Cougs.

Washington State is the epitome of good defense and Vanderbilt will have to manage some offensive production against it to have a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

ust how good is the Cougar defense? Very good. Through 33 games Washington State has surrendered a paltry 59 points per game on average. Against rival Washington the Cougars held the Huskies scoreless for an 8 minute, 50 second stretch. San Diego State was unable to score for over 10 minutes during their game with the Cougars. Oregon went scoreless for over 8 minutes against WSU. The list goes on and on; it's very difficult to score on the Cougars.

Previous head coach Dick Bennett developed Washington State's defense during his time at the Pullman, Washington school. His son, Tony, kept the defense when he took over following the 2005-06 season.

Washington State forward Robbie Cowgill described the defense, "It's pretty big on getting back and getting set. That's the number one principle; eliminate easy baskets," said Cowgill. "We want to have the guy on the ball have lots of pressure and everyone else packing it in the help side and ready to help and then recover to their shooters," continued Cowgill.

Center Aron Baynes stressed the importance of the team concept in the Cougar's defensive scheme, "It's the Bennett system, I think it's the pack defense. The whole team has to be playing it. If there is one player that's not playing it, that's not in position or something, then it's going to break down. Everyone has to come out with that mentality. You know you have to be part of the defense or the other team is just going to come out and kill you on the glass," explained Baynes.

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings is familiar with the Bennett defensive system, in fact, when he first started his head coaching career at Illinois State he traveled up to Wisconsin to spend a couple of days with the elder Bennett for advice not only on defense but head coaching advice in general. Stallings explained the Cougar defense, "If they are supposed to go under a screen they go under, if they are supposed to go over a screen they go over. They are hard to screen; they don't get screened which is really a sign of a team that knows what their doing.

"They are unusually good because they are always good defensively. Most teams are capable being somewhat like offense; they are very capable to being very good on given nights defensively but on other nights they might have slippage. You just don't see any slippage on Washington State's defense," said the eighth year head coach on Friday.

Vanderbilt Dan Cage knows the Cougar defense will be tough and but feels that his team will have to worry more about what they do and not Washington State's defense, "We'll just try to focus on what we do best. Hopefully, our shots will fall and their's won't. It will be a completely different game and style than what we saw from George Washington," said Cage.

Can the Commodores advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years? We'll find out on today. Tip off is at 4:40 p.m. CST (TV: CBS).

NOTES: Washington State is 10-2 when trailing at halftime this season. The Cougars, like the Commodores, have also had success against ranked times defeating No. 7 Arizona, No. 18 Gonzaga, No. 25 Stanford, No. 20 Arizona, No. 23 USC and No. 20 Arizona. Washington State ranks third nationally in turnovers given with just 10.4 per game. WSU is 3-6 all-time against the SEC. A win over Vanderbilt will give the Cougars 27 wins, the most ever in their program's history. Vanderbilt is 3-0 all time in second round NCAA games. Top Stories