HOOPS PRACTICE REPORT: Defense, ball control

PULLMAN -- The Cougs endured two intense practices Monday and Tuesday, as coaches preached defense and ball control—hallmarks of a Tony Bennett team. The exhibition with Lewis and Clark State is a mere four days away, and the season opener is scheduled for a week from Friday. Some of the youngsters are showing a penchant for defense, while Kyle Weaver is among those looking primed for the tip.

Tony Bennett calls the team's defensive stances "bothering the ball", the end goal being the turnovers that can be created. And freshman Stephen Sauls impressed with his defense and his tenacity.

At one point, Sauls drove by Derrick Low for a nice lay-in. Later, he made a nice steal and brought the ball down the court, which eventually led to a nice three-pointer and that proverbial "five point swing" broadcasters mention during a game.

THE COUGS' TOP SEVEN, with the exhibition against Lewis and Clarks State on Sunday and the season opener against Eastern Washington a week from Friday, seems to be nearly cemented in place.

C Aron Baynes (6-10), F Robbie Cowgill (6-10), G Kyle Weaver (6-6), G Derrick Low (6-2) and G Taylor Rochestie (6-1) have a strong hold on the starting five. First off the bench look to be F Daven Harmeling (6-7) and G Nikola Koprivica (6-6).

Koprivica is coming off knee surgery that ended his 2006-07 campaign in January. He was held out of some drills in the early practices but has put together a strong showing of late.

FOR THE STARTERS, Weaver has looked to be in midseason form in the early going, hitting on a variety of shots and using his long arms on the defensive end of the court.

C Fabian Boeke did not practice on Monday or Tuesday as he continues to suffer from a back injury that kept him out of last Saturday's scrimmage.

The loss of Boeke is a fairly large one for the Cougs. Boeke appeared to be the first big man off the bench if Baynes or Cowgill got into foul trouble. Boeke is also awaiting word on Washington State's appeal to the NCAA -- see here for details.

IF BOEKE cannot play this season per NCAA sanction, either Caleb Forrest of Daven Harmeling could slide into the paint. Senior Chris Henry is another option. Boeke is the tallest player on the Cougar squad at 6-11, and Forrest (6-8) and Harmeling (6-7) do not have the traditional size of a big center. Both players seem to fit better as power forwards.

As much as many would like to remember last season, the team is focused on the present. And comparing this team to last year's team is difficult, according to Robbie Cowgill.

"I don't know...I think we're probably a little ahead, just because of experience," said Cowgill. "To me, it may feel like we're a little bit behind because there's a lot more expectations….but as far as experience and kind of knowing what's going on, we're probably definitely ahead."

COWGILL SAID the team might still be a little lackluster at this point in the pre-season, noting there were times the team was a little sluggish in last week's scrimmage.

The experience on the Cougs, Cowgill said, will pay off immensely as the Cougs put the finishing touches on the practice session and head into the regular season. The losses of Ivory Clark to graduation (the only starter) and Chris Matthews and Mac Hopson to transfer are the only subtractions off the 26-win and No. 3 NCAA seed from a year ago.

"I don't think I realized how big a deal [experience] was until last year," Cowgill said. "Late in the game, when you just feel comfortable in those situations….you can lean on certain guys to make plays and certain decisions because they've been there before."

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