NIT outlook dims; Bennett mum about future

PULLMAN -- Barring a possible, though fading, shot at an NIT berth, this weekend will be the last time Cougar fans see senior Randy Green at Friel Court. Whether it's also the last time they see head man Dick Bennett is not certain. Media reports from Moscow to Madison have all but purchased the ceremonial rocking chair for Bennett, who has yet to announce his plans. With the Cougs taking on Pac-10 heavies Cal and Stanford, WSU has a chance to prolong the season and perhaps Bennett's career.

Last week, WSU ran its streak of winless seasons on its Oregon road trip to eight, dropping a pair of games to Oregon State and Oregon. WSU was competitive against the Beavers, but as usual, struggled to find the basket in a 71-62 defeat, shooting 39 percent from the floor. It got worse against the Ducks, as the Cougars were blown out, 67-37, and converted only 13 out of 49 field goal attempts.

Sporting an 11-12 overall record (4-10 in the Pac-10), the eighth-place Cougars sit just a half-game in front of OSU and Arizona State in the conference cellar. While an over-.500 record gives any major-conference team a shot at the NIT, the Cougars have a tough schedule remaining. Cal is tied for the Pac-10 lead with a 10-4 conference record and Stanford is tied for third at 9-5. Next week presents road games against Arizona State and Arizona. After that is the conference tournament.

YOUTH IS NOT SERVED

In his weekly press conference, Bennett attributed much of his team's troubles to its inexperience and physical makeup.

"I don't think we've made as much progress as our opponents have. A lot of that is a direct result of our inexperience. If you couple that with the physical immaturity, that explains a lot," Bennett said. "We just seem to be a little weaker than we need to be. I hope that when [the players] are older that won't be the case. Physically, we don't have upperclassmen to lean on."

While last year's team had a solid senior presence with stars Thomas Kelati and Jeff Varem as well as role players Chris Schlatter and Shami Gill, this year's team has just one senior (Green) and is made up of 11 freshmen and sophomores.

"I've never had a group quite so dominated by freshmen and sophomores. I've always leaned on upperclassmen," Bennett said. "I think Randy is doing what he can, but he's not a strong vocal type of player. When a group takes ownership, that could change; if the sophomore class would say, ‘This is our team' I do hope that will happen next year."

Bennett wondered if perhaps this team is too nice.

"They're all generally soft-spoken but at times you need to be a little nasty," Bennett said, also calling the group "mellow."

In practices, at least, Green and freshman guard Chris Matthews are often the most vocal players on the court.

ON HIS WAY OUT?

Bennett, in his third year at WSU, has said he will retire at the end of this season or next. When that happens, his son and associate head coach Tony Bennett will take over as head man. The only question is when the senior Bennett will step aside.

In a Wisconsin newspaper this week, Bennett's brother, Jack, recounted a recent conversation in which Dick said he was "105 percent" sure this would be his last season.

While Dick Bennett himself has not made his intentions known though he has indicated several times that he would leave after this season he does have at least one last wish concerning this season.

"I'd like to go out playing some good ball. I so miss that. That would thrill me as much as anything, just for us to play good, consistent, tough defense and some efficient, sharp offense," Bennett said.

GREEN'S LAST STAND

Whether Bennett retires or not, or if the Cougars advance to the NIT, this is definitely the last regular season home stand for Green, the only senior on the WSU roster. Green, a backup guard noted for his defense and energetic, crowd-pleasing style, is the last player remaining from the Paul Graham era.

For the season, Green is averaging 4.2 points in just under 19 minutes per game, and is second on the team with 21 steals.

LOW'S POOR SHOOTING

In his three starts since returning to the lineup from a broken foot, sophomore point guard Derrick Low is averaging six points on just 25 percent shooting from the field (7 for 27) and a paltry seven percent from three-point range (1 for 13). Before the injury, Low was nailing 44 percent of his shots from the floor and 47 percent from beyond the arc.

While he's been unable to find his stroke during games, in practices, Low is clearly one of the best shooters on the team; second only to leading scorer Josh Akognon and maybe third to Matthews on one of the freshman's good days.

LOTS OF AIR TIME ON TAP

Fox Sports Net will televise Thursday's game against Cal at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. ABC will broadcast Saturday's matchup with Stanford at 4 p.m.

MATCHUP PROBLEMS

Cal's Leon Powe leads the Pac-10 in scoring (20.1 points per game) and rebounding (10.5 per game), but was held well below his averages in last month's game against WSU.

Stanford forward Matt Haryasz is in the conference Top 3 in scoring (18.1) and rebounding (8.8), and scored 22 in the team's first meeting this year.

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