Cougar hoops: Shoring up D as Dawgs loom

PULLMAN -- The WSU basketball team has another three days to work on erasing the memory of Anthony Goods' game-winning 3-point dagger and focus on the hungry Washington Huskies. The Dawgs come to Friel Court on Saturday with nary a road win this season and a 1-5 record in Pac-10 play. The No. 21-ranked Cougs have wasted no time this week fixing what cost them a win at Stanford: breakdowns on D.

"Defensively, we didn't have the energy we've had in the past," head coach Tony Bennett said of the Cougars' 71-68 overtime loss to the Card. "We had more breakdowns on the defensive end than we've had most of the year."

Practices this week have focused on shoring up the holes.

Senior forward Ivory Clark, who was a rebound short of a double double at Stanford, said because the Cougs had so much success shooting, they may have let down a bit on the other end of the court. "Playing the Huskies, we don't want that to happen," he said Tuesday.

Bennett, though, isn't just concerned with defense. He found plenty to tweak on the offensive side as well. He said he thought his players could have found better shots against Stanford. The Cougars' deliberate approach was successful against California in a 73-56 victory on Thursday and will be imperative to defeating the Huskies.

"Offensively, we shot a little quick," Bennett said. "I thought we weren't as patient as we were against Cal. We played a great offensive game against Cal. We really moved the ball and shared it."

Washington, a top 15 team coming into the season, travels to Pullman in a rut. They dropped both games last week in the Bay Area, to Stanford by one point and to Cal in overtime. They're 11-6 overall. The Cougars are 15-3 overall and 4-2 in conference play.

Over-confidence, though, is not something that will victimize the Cougars. The Huskies are one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, at 83.4 points per game, and the top rebounding team in the Pac-10. And they're twin towers in the post – 7-foot freshman Spencer Hawes (15.2 points per game) and 6-7, 260-pound Jon Brockman (13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) – could really exploit the Cougars' biggest weakness: rebounding.

Interestingly, each team has a little history on its side.

The last time the Dawgs started Pac-10 play at 1-5 was in 2004 – a season in which they caught fire in mid-January and advanced to the NCAA tournament. The Cougars, however, are riding a wave in this series, having upset the Huskies both times they played last season. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said the Cougars "imposed their will" on the Huskies in those two contests.

"People say we're favorites but we're not going to buy into that record," Clark said. "We're going to play them like they're defending national champions. We know how good they are."

In both wins last season, the Huskies were flummoxed by the Cougars' slow-paced style. And so far this year the Dawgs have not been successful against the Pac-10's better defenses.

The Cougars' best bet on Saturday, like it was a year ago, will be to steal the Huskies' track shoes.

"Our defense is going to be key to our success," said Cougar guard Kyle Weaver, who against Stanford registered what is believed to be the first triple double in WSU history. "We focused on that at practice (Tuesday) -- defensively trying to stop guys. That's definitely a big part of the game coming up."

Weaver, who had a career-high 19 points against Washington last season in Seattle, is a statistical monster for the Cougs. He leads the team in rebounding and assists, is tied for the lead in blocks, and is second in scoring and steals.

COUGAR CENTER center Aron Baynes, who is coming off an ankle sprain, logged 10 minutes at Stanford. He grabbed three rebounds but missed all four of his field goal attempts. Bennett said with the significant amount of time the 6-10 Australian missed early in the season, following surgery on his other ankle, it's going to take time to shake off the cobwebs. However, Bennett said Baynes will be crucial in the stretch run of the season.

"He didn't have one of his better outings (at Stanford), probably because he was a little rusty," Bennett said. "He needs the reps as much as he needs the health and little bit of everything. You forget he was out from June until late November. He's missed a lot of development time which for big guys is significant."

NOTABLE NOTES:

• WSU backup center Chris Henry will miss 8-to-10 weeks with an injury to his right ankle that he sustained in off-season training. He will have surgery on the ankle Friday.

• The Cougars will take on the Huskies in front of a sell-out crowd. The attendance at Saturday's game is expected to surpass the 10,755 benchmark set when the Cougars defeated Gonzaga on Dec. 5.

• The game will be broadcast on FSN Northwest. Tipoff is at 3 p.m. PT.

• While the Huskies are one of the most prolific scoring teams in the nation, the Cougars are one of the stingiest, allowing just 58.7 points per game. That makes for a 24.7-point differential between the Huskies' average point total and the Cougars' average defensive yield.

• The Cougars have just one senior on the team, in Ivory Clark, but the Dawgs are perhaps even younger. Against Arizona State 10 days ago they started two sophomores and three freshmen. "We're going to have to get real old, real quick," says coach Lorenzo Romar.

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