Cougar hoops: Bennett boils over

PULLMAN -- It's days like this that remind Dick Bennett why he retired from coaching the first time around. Washington State's Tuesday basketball practice came to a sudden halt when Bennett launched into a blistering critique of his team's effort and then kicked them all off the court with a parting salvo: "Go home and call your girlfriend -- let her tell you how great you are." Despite the cutting invective, which lasted some 15 minutes, Bennett managed never to use a four-letter word.

Before the fireworks, forward Ivory Clark and guard Rodney Edgerson were the standouts of the abbreviated session. That was the initial theme of the practice. Then at 5 pm Bennett interrupted a five-on-five drill.

He had disgust in his eyes and fire in his belly.

Clearly, he wasn't seeing the Cougar team that Gonzaga coach Mark Few recently projected as an NCAA tournament contender.

Bennett excoriated his guards for not playing aggressive defense at the top of the key. Then the floodgates opened, leading to a deluge of sharp criticisms of the entire team's effort, attitude and talent.

The Cougars are 6-2 this season, with just two more non-conference games before Pac-10 play opens.

Bennett at one point said the Cougars practiced "like a bunch of marshmallows," and that he "could find 500 (people) on the street" that would play harder.

The capstone to it all was his opinion of the team's relative standing on the West Coast: "the worst!"

OVER THE COURSE of his career, Bennett has been known after such outbursts to be more apologetic -- or at least more open to being apologetic -- than your average coach.

WSU associate head coach Tony Bennett, who played for his father at Wisconsin-Green Bay, has gone on record saying the elder Bennett will often come back and apologize to players he's ripped into or taken to task. WSU sophomore point guard Derrick Low is one of the current players who's said the same thing.

Bottom line: don't expect Tuesday's practice explosion to hurt team chemistry. Those who've played for Bennett know it is just part of the package.

RUNNING ON THE second team for most of Tuesday's practice, Ivory Clark was nonetheless the best player on the floor. Despite throwing up a wild shot here and there, Clark was active and energetic throughout. He showed improved touch on his jump shot, and on one defensive play, soared in behind center Robbie Cowgill and pinned the 6-foot-10 sophomore's layup attempt against the backboard.

But after playing impressively to begin the season -- including a 23-point outing against BYU -- Clark appears to have fallen out of favor with Bennett. The 6-foot-5 power forward, a junior college transfer, has not started the past two games, and played just nine minutes in the Cougars' win over San Diego State last Saturday.

Unlike Clark, Rodney Edgerson didn't start his WSU career on a hot streak. In fact, due to a spinal cord injury that sidelined him for a number of months, Edgerson couldn't so much as run a lap until the season was already a couple of games old.

After making his debut against Idaho on Nov. 26, Edgerson played in two more games before not seeing any time in WSU's two most recent outings. On the court, Edgerson has looked tentative and uncomfortable, not to mention out of shape due to the injury.

On Tuesday, however, the 6-foot-4 guard had some spring in his step and played much more aggressively than he had been previously. Edgerson was taking the ball to the rack without pause and showed flashes of being the kind of scorer the Cougars hoped for when they signed him our of junior college.

THE SCHEDULE: The Cougars play Portland at home on Saturday and then travel to Seattle to play Utah on Dec. 22 in their nonconference finale. Tickets for the Utah game, a 7:30 tipoff in Key Arena, are available at The Pac-10 slate begins with a Dec. 29 battle with Arizona in Spokane, followed by a Pullman game against Arizona State two days later.

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