WSU Hoops: Surprising Cougs improve to 6-2

PULLMAN — Ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense, Washington State put the cuffs on Portland Saturday, shutting down the Pilots 61-46. But it was the Cougar offensive exploits -- especially in the second half -- that told the story as WSU moved to a surprising 6-2 on the season.

It's almost taken for granted these days -- the stifling defense coach Dick Bennett's Cougs employ on the hard court. And Saturday offered plenty of evidence to that effect with Randy Green and crew holding Portland 25 points under their season average of 71.3 a game.

But in the penultimate tilt before the Cougs open conference play, it was bench scoring and a balanced offense that raised eyebrows across the Palouse.

Josh Akognon came off the bench to toss a 10-spot up on the board against Portland, with all 10 points coming in the first nine minutes of the second half to put the game away.

Powered by a crimson bench (46 points) that matched Portland's entire output, the Cougs found their shooting touch in the second half, hitting 57 percent over the final 20 minutes and 50 percent overall on the afternoon. Washington State went 6-for-12 from behind the three point arc to help stamp out any Portland designs of knocking off their second Pac-10 team after the Pilots dispatched Oregon State last Saturday.

The WSU starters didn't exactly fill up the hoop -- no starter scored more than four points -- but a bench and quality depth is making for a different story in 2005-06 than in recent years. Before, the Cougs had to play the starters virtually the whole game and hope for the best. Not this year.

"One of our strengths would be our versatility and our balance this year," said Cougar assistant head coach Tony Bennett.

Eleven Cougars scored against Portland, as WSU finds itself tied for third in the Pac-10 at this stage of the young season.

THE COUGS AREN'T going to set any national scoring records anytime soon on offense but through eight games, WSU is averaging 66.8 points a game -- nearly 10 points over their average last season at this time.

Ivory Clark and Josh Akognon led the way for Washington State Saturday, coming off the bench to hoop for 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Akognon came out blazing in the second half, scoring all 10 of his points in the first nine minutes after the Cougs led 25-20 at halftime.

Rodney Edgerson made the most of his 10 minutes, scoring eight points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from the charity stripe with an assist and a rebound.

Derrick Low and the Cougar D turned it on Saturday, holding Portland 25 points below their season average.

Green -- singled out for his work post game on the defensive end by Tony Bennett -- took only two shots Saturday but hit them both, plus chipping in four rebounds and three assists. Green combined with Derrick Low to hold star guard Pooh Jeter to five points on 1-for-12 shooting.

Washington State forced 12 turnovers but also gave the ball away 13 times. The Cougars won the other hustle categories; with rebounds (27 to 21), blocked shots (5 to 1), and steals ( 4 to 3) all going in the Cougs favor. WSU held Portland to 37.8 percent shooting overall, outscoring the Pilots 23-6 in the first 9-plus minutes of the second half.

Bennett emptied the Cougar bench with 1:30 to go, with walk-on Steve Campbell and others coming in. Campbell responded with a block on an attempted jam that had the crowd roaring.

Washington State closes out their non-conference schedule Thursday in Seattle, taking on Utah in the Cougar Hardwood Classic. Tickets for the Utah game, a 7:30 tipoff in Key Arena, are available at The WSU Pac-10 slate opens against the 'Zona schools, with a Dec. 29 battle against Arizona in Spokane, followed by a Pullman game against Arizona State two days later.

Washington State entered Saturday ranked tops in the Pac-10 and No. 4 in the nation in Field-Goal Percentage Defense (35.1), and No. 9 nationally in Scoring Defense (55.4). Only one other Pac-10 ranks in the Top 50 in either category, (UCLA, t-37, Scoring Defense).

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