Cougar basketball notebook

WASHINGTON STATE IS RANKED No. 6 in the Coaches Poll, No. 7 in the AP. WSU's unblemished record headed into Key Arena stands at 9-0. The Citadel is 4-5, and 0-4 on the road. The Cougs boast a veteran squad, the Bulldogs are barely old enough to shave. The Cougars are favored by 33 points, but Tony Bennett says a blowout win is the last thing fans should be expecting.

If it seems like forever since the Cougs last took to the hardcourt, it nearly has been.

An 11 day layoff comes to end tonight when Washington State tips against The Citadel in the Cougar Hardwood Classic in Seattle at 7:30 pm. The extended break is just one of the factors that has Bennett cautioning his squad against any expectations of a comfortable win.

"All you have to do is watch us to know we don't blow people out, it's not our way" said Bennett, whose team has trailed at the break three times this season. "When we play a team like The Citadel, those guys will be very sound (fundamentally). With our system, we'll have to battle them. I think they've played against some high level talent so they're not going to be overwhelmed by us or Key Arena."

The Cougs have been both dazzling and slightly above average at times this season, depending on if they play their game. In the Gonzaga win, where the Cougs held the 'Zags under 30 percent at their house, the Cougs looked like a Final Four squad. As stout as they were defensively in Spokane, Bennett said they were just as deficient the next time out against Portland State.

Still, The Citadel is expected to start all freshmen, with only one non-freshman in uniform. But to cover the whopping 33 point spread, the Cougars, who are scoring just under 70 points per game, would have to hold The Citadel to 37 points or less.

Even for defensive minded Wazzu, holding teams to an average of 52 points this season -- second in the nation -- and with an average margin of victory of 17 points, that would appear a tall order.

And if the Cougars should need any motivation against The Citadel, they need look no further than their last outing. Granted, the lackluster 72-60 win over Portland State came on the heels of win over Gonzaga and the end of a long stretch -- the Cougs were tired and needed a break. But it's safe to say Bennett would have rather been back in action before now.

Bennett used the long layoff as an opportunity to focus more on the individual improvement -- ball handling, shooting, last second situations and to get his players fresh mentally and physically.

"That's a pretty long period of time...but you use (the break) that way and with them being more experienced and veteran, hopefully they handle that well," said Bennett.

CRIMSON TIP-INS:
  • Bennett said everyone is healthy headed into the Seattle game.

  • The emotions at halftime Thursday are expected to run the gamut. Late Cougar Tony Harris will be honored at the break, while new WSU football coach Paul Wulff will also be introduced. Wulff was officially named the 31st head football coach at WSU this past Tuesday. Tony Harris, the high-energy MVP of WSU's 1994 NCAA tournament team, was found dead in Brazil under suspicious circumstances in November.

  • The Citadel is coached by Ed Conroy, the brother of Dusty Conroy whom Bennett worked with at Wisconsin. Cousin Pat Conroy is a famous author. The title character in one of Conroy's novels, Lt. Col. Bull Meechum, "The Great Santini," was based on Ed's uncle and Pat's father.

  • More than 8,000 fans are expected in Key Arena tonight to watch the Cougs. The game is also being televised by FSN Northwest.

  • Washington State's 9-0 start is the best since the 1991-92 team opened up 12-0. On their way to a 26-8 mark last season, the Cougs went 7-0 before falling to Utah. Bennett has said the Cougs could be better this year than last and yet still wind up with less wins, given the strength of the Pac-10 conference. The Cougs play Idaho State and North Carolina AT&T before opening league play against Washington on Jan. 5.

  • The Cougs' rotation is running 8-deep in the early going. The starters: Aron Baynes, Robbie Cowgill, Derrick Low, Taylor Rochestie, Kyle Weaver.
    The rotation: Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling, Nikola Koprivica.

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