All hail Bennett's Cougs and their vocal fans

PULLMAN – With a raucous crowd turning a quaint twist of phrase (hint: one of the words is Fuskies) into an eardrum-busting anthem of pride, WSU put an exclamation point on a perhaps obvious –- yet once unthinkable -– fact: The Cougs are the best college basketball team in the state. Gonzaga found out last month and Washington, on Saturday, seemed convinced about two minutes into the second half.

Winning is becoming so prevalent on the Palouse -– the Cougars are 16-3 this season and 8-0 at home -– that the notion of storming the court never even dawned on the 11,618 partisans who crammed into the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum on Saturday.

The Cougars, playing their usual smothering defense and connecting on offense inside and out, routed the Huskies 75-47 behind Derrick Low's long-range jumpers, Kyle Weaver's typical everywhere-at-once hustle and Ivory Clark's tenacity underneath. The point spread -- Cougs by five -- was covered before the refs broke a sweat.

Gonzaga may be the darling of the last decade, and Washington the focus of a Sports Illustrated cover shot just three months ago. But it's Tony Bennett's blue-collar Cougars who rule the land.

"With the exception of a lapse at the end of the first half defensively, I think we really played a solid, complete defensive game," said Bennett.

Coach T gets the award for biggest understatement of the day. To put the Huskies' 47 points and 28 percent shooting from the field into perspective, consider that they entered the game averaging 83.4 points per game -– second-best in the Pac-10 and No. 11 in the nation.

One thing Bennett didn't understate was the performance of the boisterous Cougar fans. "What else can you say about this crowd, it was amazing. It's a home court advantage when it's like that."

The Cougars jumped out to a 15-6 start and extended their lead to 34 at one point before settling for the largest-ever margin of victory in the rivalry.

A rout, yes. But one with a caveat?

The Husky faithful were quick to point out Saturday that their leading scorer, 7-foot freshman Spencer Hawes, spent the whole game on the sidelines after rolling his left ankle in practice Friday night. Washington runs much of its offense through the sturdy Seattle Prep product, and his height on defense can alter shots.

Bennett acknowledged the face of the game changed without Hawes, but said his Cougars were ready to go Saturday, regardless of who was on the court.

"He would change the whole dynamic of the game," Bennett said. "We prepared a certain way and we were ready to play. He's a heck of a player. He's as good as they get for a young guy. I don't want to speculate -- our guys came out, battled and played hard and I'm sure we'll see him down the road."

WSU forward Robbie Cowgill was slated to guard Hawes. Cowgill was looking forward to the challenge.

"I was telling these guys, I held him to zero points -- 16 under his average," quipped Cowgill, who had six rebounds and seven points Saturday. "I was preparing myself for him and that's tough for him. He's a great player and that probably helped us a bit too but I wish him the best."

Often in Cougars victories this season, one player steals the proverbial show. But this time, Low and Weaver both were at center stage in the Huskies' downfall.

Low ran up 20 points and had nine just five minutes into the game. He hit two 3-point shots in the first minute-and-a-half to put the Cougars on top 8-3. An already revved-up Beasley crows loved it.

"I made some today," said Low, the Cougars' leading scorer this season. "You feel comfortable out there shooting. I kept working on it in practice. I didn't put my head down or anything after missing a couple shots against Stanford. Shooters have to find a way to get back into it and today was a good time to do it."

Weaver, coming off a triple double at Stanford, scored 17 points and led the Cougars in rebounding and assists, with eight and four respectively.

He was nearly perfect from the field, dropping seven of eight shots -- most of which were fade away jumpers with hands in the face. But it was Weaver's trap block of UW center Jon Brockman in the early moments that ripped the Huskies in two.

"I think we got rolling after that block," Weaver said. "It was good. I think we got some transition baskets offensively tonight. That got going a bit too."

Once again the Cougars had stickem' hands, committing just six turnovers. The team also drilled Washington with 53 percent shooting. Plus, the Cougars held the Pac-10's best rebounding team to just a plus-five margin in that category.

The WSU crowd was the largest since George Raveling's 1983 team, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, beat UCLA by two in 1983. It was the 14th largest crowd in Beasley history.

Bennett said he was touched by the faith the university has in its team. "I told the story when we played Gonzaga -- one day they'd fill this place for Cougar basketball," Bennett said. "That is always going to be a big crowd- Washington. But to see this was very rewarding."


Cougfan Top Stories