WSU Hoops: Salvage effort begins in Bay Area

PULLMAN—This certainly wasn't how it was supposed to go. Two and a half weeks after upsetting 10th-ranked Washington on the road, Washington State has yet to win another game, dropping close decisions to UCLA, USC, Oregon and Oregon State. This week the Cougars travel to Northern California to play Stanford and Cal in an attempt to salvage a season that still has promise of landing them in a postseason tournament.

While the Cougars (9-7 overall, 2-5 in the Pac-10) had chances to win each of their last four games, especially tough were losses to Oregon and UCLA, two "name" programs for which a WSU win would have impressed post-season tournament selection committees.

Against Oregon, WSU led by four points with 12 seconds remaining before Ducks star Malik Hairston hit two three-pointers, the latter coming just before the buzzer. Against nationally-ranked UCLA, the Cougars had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but swingman Kyle Weaver missed a layup.

"I think down the stretch, sometimes we fall apart," Weaver said after Tuesday's practice. "At times we don't stay together and we lose focus."

IN HIS WEEKLY press conference, WSU head coach Dick Bennett said he doesn't plan to make any major changes to the rotation. He did, however, mention he wants to give junior guard Rodney Edgerson some more playing time, but Edgerson – who has been battling a back injury all season – sat out Tuesday's practice.

Senior guard Randy Green (ankle) is closer to 100 percent and should see more playing time. Also in practice this week, freshman guard Chris Matthews appeared to be making strides while getting a longer look with the regular rotation.

"We need some alternate scoring since teams are defending Josh so well," Bennett said, in reference to Josh Akognon.

A sophomore combo guard, Akognon had averaged over 22 points per game in a stretch that included Washington, UCLA, USC and Oregon, but against Oregon State was limited to 3-for-14 shooting from the field and just seven points.

BENNETT HAD PREVIOUSLY expressed concern over how the Cougars would respond when Akognon wasn't carrying them, and got a first-hand look at such a scenario against Oregon State. According to Bennet, some of that inability to recover fell on Weaver, who is filling in for an injured Derrick Low (foot) at point guard.

"I think he tried to do too much," Bennett said of Weaver, who had 12 points, five assists and five turnovers against the Beavers. "He could never quite get himself back on track, so he was trying to push it a little too much and over-handling a little."

Weaver agreed he may have been rushing the offense.

"In certain situations I could have slowed down," Weaver said of the OSU game. "It's partially my fault."

"In the first half I was very upset, because I didn't think Kyle gave us a chance to respond," Bennett added. "Everything was rushed, and that comes down to the point guard and how he manages the game … the patience factor will allow others to score when they take Josh out.

"In the second half, when they were on Josh and he couldn't get a shot, we made an effort to get the ball to (Robbie) Cowgill. Had we kept that up he could've scored more."

COWGILL, A SOPHOMORE center/forward, led WSU with 13 points against OSU, but has continued to underachieve in the rebounding department. In the past four games, Cowgill has averaged 4.5 rebounds. As a team, the Cougars have actually outrebounded two of their last four opponents, but Bennett wants to see more.

"A big part of it is just a physical thing," said Bennett. "I could just see Cowgill and (Caleb) Forrest getting pushed. They could not hold people very long. The same is also true of Ivory (Clark).

"Our bigger guys can hold their place a little better, but they're not out there as much," Bennett said, in reference to 247-pound Aron Baynes and 257-pound Chris Henry. "With Robbie (207 pounds) and Caleb (202), they're trying. They're in position most of the time, it just takes a little nudge and they're too far under the basket. It's a strength issue."

BENNETT THEN OFFERED UP some praise for Forrest, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward who started against Oregon State and recorded seven points and four rebounds.

"I've always said, a good player doesn't always play a good game, but he doesn't ever play a bad game -- Caleb is like that," Bennett said. "Out of all out players, he has been the most pleasant surprise."

IN TRYING TO halt their losing streak, the Cougars face two teams in Stanford and Cal against which WSU has enjoyed recent success. The Cougs went 2-1 against the Cardinal last year, sweeping the regular season series before losing by a deuce in the Pac-10 tournament. Two years ago, WSU swept Cal.

"Every year is a new year, but we have played quite well on that trip," said Bennett. "A couple years ago we played well at Cal, and last year we played extremely well at Stanford. We've had a good run there, but this is a new group and they'll have to find their own way."

According to a few media outlets, Oregon players complained of cat calls from members of the Washington State crowd during last Thursday's game. When asked about the home crowd, Bennett said the worst he heard were jeers of "Daddy's boy" directed at Oregon forward Jordan Kent, son of Ducks head coach Ernie Kent.

"I didn't like it, but I lived through it for four years when I coached my son," Bennett said, talking about when he coached son Tony at Wisconsin-Green Bay. "I was pleased that we're finally getting crowds, but certainly I don't want to start belittling players," he added. "I told our players, you have to block it out. I coached in the Big Ten, where the crowds were bigger and more intense, and you just have to get used to it."

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