Cougar hoops roundup

PULLMAN — The good news is Washington State has a chance to break a six-game losing streak when the team they last beat comes to their gym tomorrow. The bad news: that team, Washington, is ranked No. 16 in the country, boasts one of the best players in the Pac-10, and is bent on avenging an upset loss to WSU suffered in front of their home fans last month.

Last month, the Cougars (9-9 overall, 2-7 Pac-10) made national headlines with a 78-71 win over UW in Seattle last month. Playing without starting point guard Derrick Low and with only one senior on the roster (sixth-man Randy Green), WSU prevailed on the strength of 27 points and six three-pointers from then-unheralded reserve Josh Akognon. The Cougars also withstood a 27-point barrage from UW star Brandon Roy, and were unphased by the Huskies' frenetic style of play.

Not much has gone right since.

The following week, WSU lost close games to USC and nationally-ranked UCLA. The week after they were swept by Oregon and Oregon State, losing to the Ducks on a buzzer-beating shot by star Malik Hairston in a game the Cougars led by four points with 12 seconds remaining. Last weekend, WSU lost another pair of close games to Stanford and Cal.

With the Huskies (16-4, 5-4) coming to Pullman tomorrow for a 2 p.m. tip-off, the Cougars are banking on recapturing the magic from their last win. Not to mention, the Friel Court crowd should be rocking with arch-rival UW in the building.

"Not only that, but we've lost six straight and they've lost two straight. We both need this win," said Green, a Seattle native who grew up playing with UW's Roy. "It's the start of the second half of the Pac-10 schedule, so it's like a new beginning."

While Akognon went on a tear following the first UW game—averaging 22 points per game during a span that included Washington, UCLA, USC and Oregon—the sophomore combo guard has been held in check recently. Against Oregon State, Stanford and Cal, Akognon was limited to just eight points per game, making 31 percent of his shots from the field.

"I've been passing a little too much," Akognon said after Thursday's practice. "I scored 27 on [Washington] last time, so they should be paying me more attention. I need to score more than 27 this time."

Having missed seven games with a foot injury, point guard Derrick Low could be back as early as next week. Low has been doing some light jogging in practice lately, and while he didn't fully take part in practice this week, dribbled around and did some shooting on the side.

Another injured point guard, Tulane transfer Taylor Rochestie, is still nursing a surgically-repaired knee. Rochestie shot some free throws Thursday, but nothing more. He is eligible to play next season.

Sophomore Robbie Cowgill, a 6-foot-10 yet lanky post player, and junior Ivory Clark, a muscular yet only 6-foot-5 post, have been splitting time between their natural positions and playing more on the perimeter.

In Thursday's practice, when the team was broken up into two groups – "movers" and "screeners" – for shooting drills, Cowgill shot with the movers, a group consisting mostly of guards. That meant while other big men Clark, Caleb Forrest, Chris Henry and Aron Baynes were working on low-post moves, Cowgill was taking 15- to 18-foot jumpers.

Earlier in the session, when players were working on one-on-one offensive skills, Clark was placed with the guards. He did fairly well, even shaking swingman Kyle Weaver with a crossover on one occasion and converting an acrobatic layup. Clark also looks to have been given a cautious green light to shoot three-pointers if open.

Freshman guard Chris Matthews has been improving in recent weeks. On Thursday, not long after Matthews' multiple fakes had Clark into impersonating a pogo stick before the D.C. native nailed a step-back three-pointer, head coach Dick Bennett complimented Matthews for becoming "harder to guard" as of late.

Another notable play from the session: 6-foot-10 Baynes threw down a vicious dunk on 6-foot Brandon Gibson, who was caught guarding Baynes on a switch.

The Cougars are first-place in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (57.5 points allowed per game) and field goal percentage defense (teams are shooting 38.8 percent against WSU), but last-place in scoring offense (61.9) and rebounding (30.4 boards per game).

Akognon leads WSU in scoring with 11.3 points per game, but his average isn't enough to crack the Top 20 in the conference. Stanford forward Matt Haryasz leads the conference with 19.3 points per game.

Weaver ranks in the conference's Top 20 in rebounds (19th with 4.8 per game), assists (third with 4.5) and steals (fifth with 1.6). Cal's Leon Powe leads the Pac-10 in boards with 10.8 per game, UCLA's Jordan Farmar is the top distributor with 5.8 dimes, and Arizona's Hassan Adams is the most prolific thief with 2.7 steals per game.

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