HOOPS: Back to business for Cougs

PULLMAN –- With Oregon State in town Thursday and No. 7-ranked Oregon on tap Saturday, WSU's big triumph over the UW is now officially stowed away as just another day at the office for coach Tony Bennett. While the 28-point win marked the largest margin in series history, WSU –- now ranked No. 18 in the land –- doesn't see it as any type of exclamation point to their magical season.

"We just need to keep doing what we're doing," Bennett said matter-of-factly Tuesday. "We said before the game we're going to put everything into this Washington game and then we're packing it up. We don't talk about it that much. It's onto the next one."

One thing he may want to revisit for at least a moment or two is defense. The Cougars (16-3, 5-2) were nothing less outstanding, nullifying the Huskies' inside game, contesting every long-range shot and suffocating the gaps.

The Beavers (9-11) come to Pullman with just one conference victory, over winless Arizona State, and six Pac-10 losses. But their record could simply be emblematic of the firepower in the nation's highest-rated conference. The team played close with No. 15 LSU in December, lost their Pac-10 opener to Oregon by 3 and dropped another three-pointer last week against Cal.

The Cougars are not willing to look beyond any conference foe, especially one in dire need of a victory.

"When you've gone through two seasons of losing and losing and losing, it's pretty easy to be humble," WSU forward Robbie Cowgill said. "We know if we let up it can go back to that; if we have any lapse or letdowns.

"Because of the group of guys we have and their character they're not going to let that happen. Their not going to take anything for granted," he said.

The Cougars face Oregon, No.1 in the Pac-10 at 18-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play. Their only setback was to USC, 84-82, on Jan. 4.

The Ducks, who average 80.3 points per game, have painted the stat sheet green. Aaron Brooks' 18.4-points a game leads the Pac-10 while teammate Maarty Leunen nearly averages a double double, leading the conference with 9.8 rebounds a game.

The Ducks have proven dangerous with a win at Arizona as well as its upset of then-No.1 UCLA.

The Cougars, who surrender just 58.1 points per game, will have a handful shutting down what WSU forward Ivory Clark says is "hands down" the nation's best perimeter team.

"We're going to have to play our style tempo," he said. "We need to make them work for everything. It's going to be a tough test for us but we're looking forward to the challenge."

The Beasley Coliseum crowd could play a factor in the home stand. The 11,618 fans at Saturday's win over Washington were at times deafening in their support of the Cougs.

Bennett drew back to his NBA days to explain the impact of chart-topping fan support.

"It makes a difference -- fatigue-wise, when the crowd is in a frenzy that much. It energizes you," Bennett said. "When I played with the (Charlotte Hornets) we led the league in attendance. When the crowd would get revved up, I don't care how tired you were at times, it gave you 10, 20 more seconds of that possession where you could play harder."

BACK TO THE HUSKIES for a moment. Lorenzo Romar pointed out in his radio show Monday that his team's woes were due largely to the fact they couldn't get open for quality shots. Look no farther than the Dawgs' 28-percent field goal accuracy on Saturday as testament.

"They didn't have their best interior player (Spencer Hawes)," Bennett said. "They were off, didn't have a great shooting game. But we did have someone in position, pressuring the ball in the gaps to not give them a lot of easy baskets."

Clark, who scored 10 point against Washington, said the team emphasized defensive intensity last week after breakdowns led to an overtime loss to Stanford the week before. "I was looking for a real tough game," Clark said. "We really stepped up our defense that whole week in practice and they shot contested shots all night. It made it difficult for them."

Practices last week also were toned down a bit, and Cougar players said a little more rest was beneficial leading up to the Washington game.

The goal is to keep the team fresh down the stretch as well as focusing on upcoming games. "Going to school and going to practice is a full time job," Clark said. "Walking around campus can make you fatigued. Coach Tony is not too far removed from being a player himself so he knows how it is. I think it helped us being fresh in the Washington game."

NOTABLE: Cougar junior guard Kyle Weaver is one of the most prolific players in the Pac-10 this season. He ranks No. 3 in the conference in assists and steals. No. 6 in blocked shots and No. 15 in rebounding. His 11.3 points and 50 percent field goal shooting accuracy aren't to shabby either.

Editor's Note: Look for exclusive hoops video on CF.C following Thursday's tilt with Oregon State. As we continue the launch of our our TV arm, still a work in progress, our goal at Cougfan.com, in alliance with the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication's Cable 8 Productions, is to bring you more video, more highlights, more Cougs. Keep an eye out for it!

Cougfan Top Stories