Our questions and yours: Bennett answers all

IN AN INTERVIEW WITH WSU basketball coach Tony Bennett this week, Cougfan.com's list of questions included a few readers have posed on our Luxury Suites message board. How's Nikola Koprivica's knee? What's the scoop with Chris Matthews' playing time? How deep will the rotation be for the Pac-10 tourney? What's the buzz in recruiting? The leader of the nation's No. 13 team answers all this and more

In the midst of this basketball renaissance on the Palouse, with Washington State at 23-5 and ranked No. 13 in both major polls, a natural first question has nothing to do with looming UCLA, whom the Cougs are aiming to share the Pac-10 title with.

No, a more pressing query is this: What's all the success translating to on the recruiting trail?

Bennett, of course, can't comment on specific players until they sign, so there was no mention of the fact 6-foot-7, 14-year-old Patrick Simon of Ephrata last week became the youngest verbal commit to WSU -- in any sport -- ever. Or that 6-10 German wunderkind Fabian Boeke announced this week that he plans to swap bratwurst and spätzle for the Cougar Gold of Ferdinand's.

Generally speaking, said Bennett, the Cougar basketball brand is starting to carry greater cache in the talent crusades.

"The proof will be in the pudding, until you sign guys, you don't know," said Bennett. "For some guys, sure, there's a little more name recognition because we've been ranked and there's been a little more publicity. But again, our formula is still trying to find the guys who want to be here, that are about the right stuff -- and hopefully we're doing a good job with that. We'll see when signing time comes, but I believe (this season) definitely can't hurt us and hopefully it will help us."

ALTHOUGH LEADING SCORER Derrick Low hasn't scored more than 13 points in a game in more than a month, Bennett dismissed notions of a slump for the Cougars' junior guard.

"I wouldn't go that far to say he's slumping, I think he's doing a fine job and some of his shots are right on the rim. He's carrying a big load for this team," said Bennett.

Just about every opponent focuses their game plan on stopping Low, added Bennett, and that opens up shots for other Cougars.

"Obviously it would be great to have him really bust out, but it's getting harder and harder with the attention that he's getting," Bennett said. "And I just want him to play as soundly as he can and as aggressive as he can offensively, and then continue to be a factor on the defensive end."

HEADED INTO THE final two games of the regular season before the Pac-10 tournament and then the Big Dance, WSU is looking more and more like a four-guard team.

Besides Low and multi-dimensional Pac-10 Player of the Year contender Kyle Weaver, Mac Hopson and Taylor Rochestie have each earned significant playing time of late -- and others may see minutes as well depending on how they progress.

"I just felt we needed to get another guard (in the rotation) to play on the perimeter," said Bennett. "I gave Mac a chance in the Oregon game, and he obviously played really solid there. And that's why in the Washington game, I gave Antonio Chavers a chance and he did a fine job. And I gave Jeremy Cross a chance in the Oregon game just looking for another guy or two that can guard the ball and do some things soundly."

FOR THE PAC-10 tournament, the rotation the Cougars go with hinges on many factors. Bennett says he tries to reward players who are practicing well, while game flow and foul trouble also come into play. In other words, the message to the players on the bench at the start the game is a simple one: Be ready.

"We went nine deep against Oregon," said Bennett. "I think you need to have at least four guys on the perimeter and at least four on the interior and whether you add a fifth on the perimeter or interior, it just depends. I'm always looking at how players practice. (Chris Matthews) has a great attitude and he's helped us before ... It's one of those situations where Chris at times has helped us and at times has not. It's just what the game dictates, matchups and all that.

"I tell those guys, like Caleb Forrest as well, you just have to continue to be ready because you don't know when you're going to get called on. Your job is to stay as ready as you can. And that's one of the hard things as a coach, to not be able to play all the guys because they can all help you in certain ways and we've got good young men on this team. But you can't play everybody. You have to decide on a rotation and do what you feel is the best for the team in that game."

NIKOLA KOPRIVICA , out with a torn ACL since January, looks to be back in action sometime in the summer. Had there been some of the severe cartilage damage that often accompanies an ACL tear, the freshman forward could have been out for nine months.

"It came out better than maybe expected, so right now it's projected to be a six-month rehab -- which would be the best-case scenario," said Bennett.

Junior post-man Chris Henry also remains sidelined after ankle surgery in January and looks to be on track in his recovery, Bennett said.

TIP OFF THURSDAY vs. UCLA is at 7:30 pm Pacific Time. The game will be televised by Fox Sports. Saturday's game against USC starts at 4 pm and will be televised by FSN. Both contests are sold out.

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