Hoops: Silver lining despite tourney exit

THE DICK BENNETT ERA at Washington State came to a convincing and disappointing end Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-10 basketball tournament. And while an early exit is always disappointing, especially via a rout and even more so when it closes the career of a coaching icon, there were in fact two silver linings for the Cougars coming out of the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Oregon, for the third time this season, left WSU on the wrong end of the scoreboard, 66-55. But in the process they allowed the Cougars to head into the off-season with their record against the cross-state Huskies fully intact at 2-0. That hasn't happened in 12 years.

Had the Cougs defeated the Ducks, thus setting up a game three with the Dawgs on Thursday, the most impressive milestone of the season would have been in serious jeopardy given the way the No. 12 Huskies have stormed through the final part of the regular season, reeling off eight straight wins.

The other silver lining Thursday was found Down Under. Cougar freshman center Aron Baynes, an import from Australia, scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds for the Cougars against the Ducks to cap a four-game stretch in which he played an average of 25 minutes and averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds per game.

He improved mightily over the course of the season, offering the crimson faithful a glimpse of what they haven't seen in the post in years: A legitimate center who can bang around with the best in the conference. Baynes is 6-10 and 247 pounds.

Baynes wasn't the only true freshman making a mark against the Ducks. Guard Chris Matthews earned a starting assignment and tossed in nine points over 31 minutes. Sophomore forward Robbie Cowgill chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes of action.

The Cougars will return all but one player, senior Randy Green, next season. Leading the way will be junior-to-be Kyle Weaver, who this season became just the fourth player in WSU history to notch more than 100 assists and 100 rebounds in the same season.

With the loss to the Ducks, the Cougars' seventh straight setback of the season, WSU finishes the campaign 11-17 overall and 4-14 in Pac-10 play. In addition to the Huskies, the Cougars' other conference wins came against Arizona State and USC.

The Cougars trailed almost from the start against Oregon but made an 18-4 run late in the game to pull within seven points with just more than five minutes remaining. That was as close as things would get.

Bennett concludes his three-year stint in Pullman at 36-49. In addition to the sweep of the Huskies this season, Bennett achieved many notable feats in his time at WSU. Among them:

* Won 57-51 at Alaska Fairbanks in November 2003 to break 27-game road losing streak.

* Won 55-50 at California in January 2004 to break 31-game losing streak in the state of California, a 22-game Pac-10 road losing streak, and a six-game skid to Golden Bears.

* Won 55-48 at UCLA in February 2004 for first win at UCLA in 47 games, including 39 at Pauley Pavilion. The win also broke a 22-game losing streak to UCLA.

* Won 60-51 at USC in February 2004 to snap seven-game losing streak at USC...first season sweep of USC since 1985-86...completed first road sweep of Los Angeles schools in WSU history.

* Won 60-51 vs. Stanford in Spokane in December 2004 to break 17-game losing streak against Cardinal.

* Won 70-63 at No. 11 Arizona in January 2005 to break 38-game losing streak against Arizona...stopped 20-game losing streak at Arizona...first win in 35 tries against a ranked Arizona team...halted a 26-game road losing streak against ranked opponents and a 48-game skid overall against top 25 teams. * Won 59-48 at Stanford in March 2005 to break eight-game losing streak at Stanford...first home-and-home sweep of Stanford since 1992-93.

* Won 78-71 at No. 10 Washington in January for first win at HecEd since 1994...first win in 57 games against a top 10 team on the road...broke 34-game losing streak to top 10 teams.

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