Riding the roller-coaster of Cougar hoops

PULLMAN -- WSU's men's basketball team travels to Stillwater on Saturday for a monumental test against No. 6-rated Oklahoma State, but notions of an upset seem remote indeed following the Cougars' performance Tuesday. While they managed a one-point win at Idaho, the sobering reality is that it was done scoring 12 <i>fewer</i> points against the Vandals than did the Cougar football team when they played the cross-border rivals in September.

Worse yet, that wasn't the sorriest statistic. By a long ways. The Cougars shot 26 percent from the floor -- out done only by Idaho's 24.5. And the teams' combined point total of 73 threatened the record for fewest scored in the shot-clock era (67).

This really was the game that John Naismith invented a century ago. But in Naismith's defense, the modest scores in those days could be partly explained by the fact no one had thought yet to cut out the bottoms of the peach basket hoops. Every bucket required a step ladder to retrieve the ball.

No such impediments on Tuesday.

But a win is a win. Even if it is 37-36.

The winning bucket was courtesy of forward Jeff Varem, who put down a two-handed dunk with 1.2 seconds left after taking an inbounds pass under the basket from freshman point guard Kyle Weaver.

The victory boosts the Cougars to 3-1 on the season as they prep for their stiffest test of the season on Saturday.

The Cowboys, Final Four participants last season, are 4-0 so far in this campaign and looking solid from top to bottom. They return most of their key players from a year ago, including point guard John Lucas III (21.8 points, 3.8 assists per game),forward Joey Graham (18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds)and forward Ivan McFarlin (10.8 points).

They've also added standout freshman guard Jameson Curry, who was initially was ticketed for North Carolina.

Cougar head coach Dick Bennett considers the Pokes a frontrunner for the national championship.

Two weeks ago he said his team's non-conference schedule was too hard for a club that features six true freshmen. Oklahoma State is Exhibit A for that argument. While an upset of the Cowboys would be monumental to say the least, not many are that optimistic.

Moreover, Bennett says the Cougars aren't playing as hard and tough right now as they were at the end of last season.

Bennett says his goal is to be competitive in the daunting non-conference games, which includes Gonzaga next Tuesday and BYU on the road Dec. 11 and Wyoming in Laramie on Dec. 22. In regard to Saturday, many would call that too lofty an aspiration. But that, as they say, is why they play the games.


In his weekly radio show on Monday, Bennett said 6-9 freshman center Chris Henry, out for more than a month with a bad ankle, has been cleared to start practicing at full speed. Once he's in fighting trim, look for him to see significant playing time, perhaps at Portland or Wyoming later this month.

Bennett said freshman point guard Derrick Low, out for the last month with a broken foot, is also making progress and could be back for the start of Pac-10 play. Low is expected to be the Cougars' starting PG.

The Cougars open Pac-10 season in Spokane against Stanford on Dec. 31 and Cal on Jan. 2.

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