Baynes' play: It's Australian for good timing

PULLMAN – It seemed like old times in Corvallis last week. Aron Baynes was a difference maker. It had been awhile. Off-season ankle surgery -- the plates and screws couldn't come out until September -- and then a sprain to the other wheel in January, was making this a season-long episode of "Australian Idle." Until Saturday. Now the question begs: Is he rounding into form at just the right time?

"I don't know if Aron is 100 percent yet but he is getting healthier," head coach Tony Bennett told this week. "He missed so much of the preseason and then just when he was getting healthier he sprained his other foot, so he's had complications along the way.

"To where he ended last year, he's getting closer to this year. And he showed that in the Oregon State game," Bennett added.

Baynes looked like the 2006 Baynes against the Beavers and even showed off a deft touch from 15-feet out. He scored 14 points and nabbed six rebounds. He also came through under pressure, icing the win with two free throws with eight seconds left.

His aggressive attitude in the post really stood out. He went hard to the basket, drawing fouls and recording the Cougars' most pronounced dunk of the season. At one juncture in the second half, he scored eight consecutive points, all in the paint, to put the Cougs up 47-45.

"It was my mentality going into the game -- I knew it was going to be physical," said the 6-10, 270-pound Australian. "I had to take the ball up strong every time."

Bennett said the intensity and physical nature of the game gave it a post-season feel.

Baynes' signature move, marginally effective this season, is a jump-hook down low. But when he decided to go for dunks against the Beavers, it changed the dynamics of the game. OSU often double-teamed him and was forced to committ fouls.

This more powerful and aggressive Baynes would be a welcome addition to the No. 13-ranked Cougars' postseason run, particularly as teams in recent weeks have done a nice job containing WSU's leading scorer, Derrick Low.

"I'm just going to be another big body," Baynes said. "I need to rebound and put a couple points on the board." He'll have no bigger stage to do it than tonight, when the Cougs look to take down No. 2-ranked UCLA with the hopes of then grabbing a share of the conference title Saturday against No. 23 USC.

"I think it's great that we are finishing off our season with two of the best teams in the Pac-10," Baynes said.

TIP OFF TONIGHT 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 also will be televised by FSN. The Bruins are 25-3 overall and 14-2 in Pac-10 play, while the Trojans are 21-8 and 11-5. The Cougars are 23-5 and 12-4 in the conference.

THE PAC-10 TOURNAMENT starts next Wednesday. The Cougs will debut Thursday. If they remain in second place, they'll play the winner of the 7 vs. 10 game. If they drop to third, they'll play the 6 seed. And if they tie UCLA for the conference crown and somehow come away with the 1 seed – which is highly unlikely given UCLA's higher RPI -- they would play the winner of the 8 vs. 9 game.

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