Cougar hoops roundup: Time to rekindle fire

PULLMAN -- The momentum of beating Washington when the Huskies were ranked No. 10 in the country was potentially squandered by the Cougars' two road losses at UCLA and USC over the weekend. This week, the Cougars have the Oregon schools at home and priority No. 1 is to rekindle the defensive energy and get back in the win column.

"We lost some hunger, which was the most upsetting thing, other than we just didn't play well," said sophomore big man Robbie Cowgill. "We weren't mentally ready and we didn't come with defensive energy. I think we took for granted the win at UW. We had a chance to make some noise, maybe even take first place in the Pac-10, and we bit the big one."

Head coach Dick Bennett praised the team for staying close to the Bruins and Trojans. The Cougars lost both games by a combined seven points.

"The bright spot was the willingness to compete and not give up, even when things were difficult," Bennett said in his weekly press conference. "We were really out of the game at halftime against UCLA, but we fought back. And I thought we were just thoroughly outplayed by Southern Cal and still found a way to stay close. That's a characteristic of this team that I really admire."

With the Ducks coming to town, Bennett has stressed that WSU has to prevent a track meet, as well as keep Oregon off the boards. That will likely mean more playing time for Aron Baynes, the 6-foot-10 freshman from Australia. Baynes grabbed seven rebounds against USC in 14 minutes.

The team also needs more from Cowgill, who had just six rebounds total in the two LA games.

"I was disappointed in my play this weekend," Cowgill said. "With D-Low out, Josh (Akognon) stepped up, and I should've been one of those guys to step up, too. I just need to play tougher. I'm 6-10; I can't be a guard. I need to give us some interior presence."

Bennett suggested that perhaps Cowgill's struggles have been the after-effects of a broken collarbone that kept him out for WSU's first three games of the year.

Cowgill said he feels 100 percent, and if there have been any psychological effects -- such as the unwillingness to accept contact, as Bennett commented on -- it isn't even conscious on his part.

"It doesn't bother me at all," Cowgill said. "I wish it was the injury, then maybe I'd have an excuse, but I'm fine."

The Cougars recently added another point guard, although this one -- like D-III transfer Jeremy Cross -- also won't play this season.

Taylor Rochestie, a transfer from Tulane, is enrolled in classes at WSU and has been at practice this week, though not participating due to a knee injury. In October, Rochestie dislocated his right kneecap and tore his MCL. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he should be eligible to play next season.

Rochestie hails from Santa Barbara, Calif., and averaged 10.9 points and 3.7 assists as a freshman at Tulane last season. He was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team, starting in 25 of the Green Wave's 28 games.

Including his breakout performance against the Huskies, sophomore combo guard Josh Akognon has averaged 23.6 points per game in his last three games.

"Offensively, we could not get more from a person than we're getting from Josh, and that sets the tempo of the team's offense," Bennett said Tuesday. "But I worry about the nights when he's taken out of the game, who's gonna pick up the slack."

During Akognon's hot streak, the second-most prolific Cougar has been sophomore swingman Kyle Weaver, at 12.3 points per game.

* Bennett said senior guard Randy Green (ankle) should be able to play this week, but probably not for any extended period of time.

* Derrick Low, who fractured a foot two weeks ago, was out of his walking boot for practices this week, doing some very delicate shooting drills. Low can't do much more than walk moderately fast at this point. The original prognosis had him sidelined for all but the last few games of the season, but there are some rumblings he could return a bit sooner.

* While Brandon Gibson, a freshman wide receiver on the WSU football team, has been practicing with the basketball team in recent weeks, the Ducks have a football player of their own in Jordan Kent, a 6-foot-5 guard who is also a receiver for Mike Bellotti. Kent, in fact, caught a 68-yard touchdown pass against the Cougars in November. Kent is also the son of Ducks head basketball coach Ernie Kent. He plays about 15 minutes per game. "He does a lot of little things that makes it easier for their stars to play well," Bennett said of the younger Kent.

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