Cougar Hoops Notebook

PULLMAN -- All season long, Tony Bennett and the rest of the Pac-10 coaching fraternity have maintained that their league, top to bottom, has never been better. Obviously, this means that each and every one of these coaches is a bold-faced liar. The correct statement, of course, is that the Pac-10 has never been better from top to NEAR the bottom.

Say hello to the sad-sack, skill-challenged, buried-deep-deep-deep-in-the-cellar Oregon State Beavers. Please. The Beavers would appreciate it. Lord knows hardly anyone in Corvallis acknowledges their existence anymore.

The Beavers, Washington State's next victim -- er, opponent Thursday in Corvallis (5:30 p.m., FSN) -- are almost incomprehensibly awful. It's bad enough that the Beavers have lost 13 straight games, but it's the manner in which they lose that is so appalling.

Not only is Oregon State 0-11 in league and 6-17 overall, but the Beavers rank ninth or 10th in 12 of 20 team statistics maintained by the Pac-10. It‘s almost become easier to count "crowds" at rickety old Gill Coliseum by the dozens than by the thousands.

Try as they might -- and few observers would say the Beavers aren't giving a good effort -- they just don't play basketball very well. A loss to 21st-ranked Washington State would tie the school record for consecutive defeats. That's what happens when you average 61 points, shoot 39 percent from the field and have 36 more turnovers than assists.

Bennett will endlessly preach to his players about the importance of not looking past the Beavers. The truth is, however, that all Pac-10 teams can paddle the Beavers when bringing their "B" game. Maybe their "C" or "D" game.

When Stanford forward Lawrence Hill said the Beavers are "way better than anyone wants to give them credit for" after the Cardinal dumped OSU 71-56 Saturday, you had to wonder about Hill's sources. After all, only once in Pac-10 play have the Beavers lost by as few as nine points.

That said, the Cougars would be wise to recall their last visit to Corvallis. WSU played with limited fire and skill before pulling out a 58-54 win last season against an Oregon State squad only slightly better than the current model.

The Cougars certainly don't want to do anything to curb their momentum after Saturday's impressive romp over USC. The victory prevented an 0-4 homestand, and the Cougs need all the confidence they can muster before heading to Eugene on Saturday (6 p.m., FSN) to face an Oregon team that hasn't lost to WSU at home since 1995.

"Going on the road, it's nice to get that swagger back," point guard Taylor Rochestie said.

The mention of WSU guard Kyle Weaver after the USC game prompted this response from teammate Derrick Low: "Was he on the floor?"

Low was inserting the needle into his buddy big-time. Weaver's Saturday performance was one for the ages.

"Weaver was terrific," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "Absolutely terrific."

"He was very special," Bennett said. "He made O.J. earn everything."

Bennett was referring to O.J. the killer basketball player, not O.J. the killer football player. Weaver's defense on USC super frosh O.J. Mayo was so superb, it overshadowed the fact that Weaver also led the Cougars with 17 points, 8-for-8 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals.

"He defends as well as anyone in the country at his position," Floyd said.

"He's a good player," said Mayo, who scored 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting and had five turnovers and no assists in 36 minutes. "He's long and really active on defense."

At one point in Saturday's rout, a spectator in the upper deck of Beasley Coliseum shouted, "Kyle Weaver's so much better than O.J. Mayo!" Coupled with the "O.J.'s guilty!" chants that resulted from fouls on Mayo, it made for a long night for the kid.

Weaver has led the Cougars in scoring four straight games, but his outside shooting remains a question mark in the eyes of NBA scouts. projects Mayo as the No. 10 pick in the next draft, with Weaver going 21st and Low 54th.

Told after Saturday's game that he might have made himself some future money by enhancing his draft stock with the strong showing against Mayo, Weaver smiled and said, "Maybe. I hope so."

Weaver's outside shooting is dramatically better this year than last. He's the Cougs' most accurate three-point shooter, hitting 46 percent on 18 of 39. A year ago he shot a woeful 20 percent from beyond the arc.

Floyd had nothing but compliments for the Cougars after the game. By then, he was considerably calmer -- not to mention funnier -- than during the on-court rage that earned him an early trip to the locker room.

"I used to (get ejected) about once a week when I was younger," Floyd deadpanned. "I don't have the energy anymore. I guess I got a good night's sleep."

WSU players looked stunned when Floyd marched from one end of the court to the other -- and rather close to the middle of the floor -- to give the officials a piece of his mind after a questionable non-call on Mayo.

"That was unbelievable," Weaver said. "He was fired up. I thought he was going to choke a ref out there."

"I was like, ‘Whoa!'" Robbie Cowgill said. "It was weird seeing him doing that. I tried to stay away from him."

Don't look now, but just one game separates third place from eighth place in the Pac-10. Washington State and USC are 6-5; Arizona and Arizona State are 5-5; and California and Oregon are 5-6. UCLA and Stanford are tied for first at 9-2.

Four of WSU's seven remaining Pac-10 games are on the road. No Pac-10 team has gone to the NCAA tournament without a winning conference record, but that may change this year, since the Pac-10 is widely recognized as the No. 1 or 2 (behind the ACC) conference in the nation.

For what it's worth, the second annual mock NCAA tournament seeding session -- held among 20 media types at the NCAA headquarters last Thursday -- had No. 4 seed WSU playing No. 13 seed Sam Houston State at Denver in the first round of the Midwest Regional.

The 18-4 Bearkats play in the lightly regarded Southland Conference.

The Cougars rank in the top eight in five categories in the latest NCAA Division I statistics, which include Sunday's games.

WSU is third points allowed (15.5) and turnovers (10.4), seventh in personal fouls (14.5) and eighth in assist-turnover ratio (1.4) and field-goal shooting percentage (49.2).

Despite their high shooting percentage, the Cougars rank 204th in the nation and ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring at 67.7. And despite ranking third in the nation and first in the conference in points allowed, WSU is 95th in the nation and fourth in the conference in field-goal percentage defense (42.0) and 71st in the nation and last in the conference in 3-point percentage defense (35.3). Only Arizona (49.1) has permitted rivals to shoot better in Pac-10 games than WSU (48.5).

Rochestie ranks sixth in the nation and second in the conference in turnover-assist ratio (3.16) and 54th in the nation and first in the conference in assists (5.1). Weaver ranks 61st in the nation and first in the conference in steals (1.96). Low ranks 82nd in the nation and first in the conference with 2.61 3-pointers made per game, even though he was 5 for 26 from beyond the arc during the homestand.

Cowgill has been named to the ESPN The Magazine's District VIII All-Academic first team. He has a 3.36 grade point average in management operations and will graduate this spring from the Honors College. On the court, he is averaging 7.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shot per game. Cowgill is a perennial Pac-10 All-Academic pick.

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