Another hoop win!

IT'S NO ILLUSION. With a 76-61 victory over USC on Saturday, Washington State posted it's second conference win in this young season and elevated its overall mark to 8-6. Read it and weep --- as in tears of joy.

In just two months, first-year head coach Dick Bennett's Cougars have more wins then they did all of last season. And they have equaled last season's output of Pac-10 victories.

Praise the Lord and pass the Cougar Gold. Basketball is back on the Palouse.

In the last seven days the Cougars have defeated USC, lost by just three to storied UCLA and beaten Cal 55-50 at Berkeley. Two wins and nearly a third. We're not talkin' Idaho, Montana or TCU -- whom the Cougars downed earlier in the campaign. We're talkin' bonafide Pac-10 ball clubs.

Given the sorry state of the program over the previous seven seasons, that's a run that could darn near start to wake the echoes of Steve Puidokas, Don Collins, Craig Ehlo, Bennie Seltzer and Mark Hendrickson.

At 8-6, the Cougars are off to their best start since Ike Fontaine was on campus. They currently stand No. 4 in the Pac-10 --- a spot on the statistical map as foreign to them as a complete sentence is to Scott Pelluer.

Perhaps most impressive about Saturday's win over a scrappy USC team is that the Cougars shot 58 percent from the field and scored a season-high 76 points. Certainly not head turning stuff, but in light of the team's offensive challenges this year (they scored only 29 points against Fresno State and 36 against Southern Utah) it's enough to make you want to stand up and cheer.

The crimson parade was led by junior Jeff Varem, a JC transfer from Nigeria, who scored 22 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Marcus Moore added 12 points and eight assists, while Shami Gil dropped in 17 --- five of them coming midway through the second half to break a 48-48 tie and put the Cougs ahead for good. Thomas Kelati played lock down defense and also scored 12.

Next up are the two Oregon schools on the road, followed by Washington in Pullman on Jan. 24.

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