Nothing normal about this nailbiting night

SEATTLE –- With scalpers out front of Hec Ed Pavilion beforehand selling tickets for as much as $200 apiece, Taylor Rochestie turning in a whopping 31 minutes on the court, and Wazzu fans chanting "N-I-T" at the Washington faithful after the final horn sounded, there was nothing normal about the nailbiting Cougar-Husky battle here Wednesday night.

As Husky fans chanted "GO .... DAWGS" in the first half, the large throng of crimson infiltrators hijacked the cheer, bellowing "COUGS" right after "GO."

Usually unflappable Tony Bennett looked like he saw a ghost when the Cougs -- largely unforced -- tossed a pass out of bounds while holding a one-point lead with a little more than a minute left on the clock.

Lorenzo Romar came unglued with a jump ball call in the waning moments that he thought was a steal.

There was 7-foot Spencer Hawes, a wrecking machine down low, angling out to the 3-point arc for a shot to tie things up with 13 seconds left, but having to pass the ball away as the Cougs sniffed out the would-be stratagem.

The only thing that could have added to the drama would have been the second-coming of Dick Bennett offering a one-fingered salute to the deafening Husky student section.

The No. 10-ranked Cougs (now 22-4) and the resurgent Dawgs (16-9) put on a classic.

Consider the comments of one crimson-clad fan, overheard on a cell phone walking out of the arena: "I am physically spent, bordering on exhaustion, after that."

Indeed, there were nine lead changes.

The game was won by WSU, 65-61, when Derrick Low hit a pair of free throws with 16.7 seconds left and Robbie Cowgill followed up with another at 7.3 seconds.

WSU also held the Dawgs scoreless for the last 3-plus minutes of the contest.

THE HUSKIES POUNDED the inside all night, with twin towers Hawes and Jon Brockman combining for 37 points, 19 rebounds and six assists. They also drew 15 fouls from the Cougars' men in the post -– a trend line that had the outnumbered, but vocal, WSU partisans reaching for the worry beads half-way through the second period.

The Cougars committed an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers, but did what they've done all season -– play tough defense (the Huskies shot 37.5 percent from the field), spread the scoring burden (four players had nine points or more) and, above all, not get rattled in crunch time.

Bennett, WSU's first-year head man, summed it up well: "We were just hanging in to the best of our ability defensively in the second half. We made some mistakes offensively, but we persevered."

He termed the victory "big time."

After falling behind 11-6, the Cougars, led by Rochestie and Slammin' Ivory Clark, built a 40-32 halftime advantage by holding the Dawgs scoreless in the final seven-minutes-plus of the first half.

But the Huskies came out strong in the second, repeatedly forcing the action in the paint to Hawes (22 points) and Brockman (15 points, 14 rebounds). They eventually took the lead with just more than five minutes left in the game.

The crowd offered up ear-splitting noise every time the Cougars had the ball, but the pitch was elevated over the final eight minutes when the momentum seemed decidedly in Washington's favor.

Rochestie, a speedy 6-1 point guard who transferred to WSU from Tulane a year ago, was the Cougars' hero -– and an unlikely one. He scored 16 points, 10 in the first half, and dished off four assists in 31 minutes of playing time –- a level of action that exceeds his season average by approximately 20 minutes. He appeared unfazed by the hostile crowd, and played without his signature knee brace for the first time this season.

"He gave us a spark off the bench and he defended too," said Bennett. "He is showing the things we saw in him. He helped us in so many ways tonight."

Another unlikely contributor was senior guard Antonio Chavers, who rejoined the team a month ago after sitting out the first part of the season with academic woes. He played eight minutes and stroked in a key three-point shot in the first half. He also had one assist and one rebound.

This was the Cougars' fifth straight conference win after an overtime loss to Oregon. They're 11-3 in Pac-10 play, No. 2 behind UCLA, and have their best shot at a conference championship since 1983, when George Raveling's Cougars lost the title on the final day of the regular season in a one-point loss to Washington.

NOTES:

• Washington State's 11 Pac-10 wins are its most since 1982-83 (14-4).

• WSU has a four-game winning streak against Washington – the first since 1993 (last game) through 1995 (first game). The marks the first back-to-back home-and-home sweeps of the Huskies since 1967-68 and 1968-69.

• The Coug win marked the fourth sweep of a Pac-10 opponent this season (Arizona, Arizona State, California, Washington) – the first such showing since the 1982-83 season when WSU swept five teams (Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, California, Stanford).

• Washington State's 40 first half points equal the Cougars' most in the opening stanza this season (at California, Jan. 11).

• Cougar junior Kyle Weaver tallied five assists and six rebounds, making him the second Cougar in school history to have at least 125 assists and 125 rebounds in the same season. He has 127 assists and 143 rebounds this year. Keith Morrison accomplished the feat in both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 campaigns.

• Weaver recorded four steals to move past the Pride of Gonzaga Prep, Terry Kelly (1977-80), into 10th place on the Cougars' career list, with 110.


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