Sizing up Low's woes and the Oregon schools

PULLMAN -– Washington State, three-games behind UCLA and Stanford with seven left, almost certainly will extend its string of non-championship regular seasons to 66. But head coach Tony Bennett is more concerned about helping slumping senior guard Derrick Low find his touch.

Low still leads WSU in scoring, at 13.4 points per game, and leads the Pac-10 with 2.6 three-pointers made per outing, but he's scored seven or fewer points in three of the past six games. And he's 5 for 26 from trey-land over the past four games.

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Asked if Low's struggles stem from a problem with his shooting form, Bennett said, "If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a rich man. It's like putting or driving; you try to make sure your fundamentals are sound and you have confidence."

As for the notion of catching the conference-leading Bruins and Card, Bennett was matter-of-fact: "It'll be hard to catch either of those teams. Impossible, no. You've just got to worry about your own team."

After snapping a three-game losing skid with a near-perfect win over USC on Saturday, Bennett and his troops look to build a three-game winning streak by knocking off Oregon State and Oregon this week in a pair of games that will be televised by FSN.

The Ducks are 14-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play. Their confidence should be on the rebound after beating Cal on Saturday following an abysmal showing in a 73-42 loss at Stanford last Thursday.

"Stanford is playing great basketball right now," Oregon star Malik Hairston said. "Every time we made a mistake, they capitalized."

The Ducks, who the Cougs play Saturday, have played inconsistently this year despite returning four starters from an NCAA Elite Eight squad.

"We have a very talented basketball team ... at times, we struggle to find the identity of our basketball team," Hairston said.

The Cougars snapped a 13-game losing streak against Oregon by topping the Ducks 69-60 in a well-played contest Jan. 20 in Pullman. WSU has dropped 12 straight in Eugene.

Oregon State, meanwhile, has become the designated punching bag of Pac-10 basketball, but Bennett is warning his players to be ready to take a few punches tonight in Corvallis.

"They're playing with reckless abandon," Bennett said of the Beavers. "They're a dangerous team … they don't want to go without a win in conference."

The Beavers (6-17 overall) are on a record pace in reverse, having lost all 11 of their Pac-10 games this season. Since the Pac-8 expanded to the Pac-10 in 1978-79 and teams began playing 18 league games, no one team has gone winless in conference play.

"They're hungry," Bennett said. "They're looking for that first win. That's always dangerous. But our focus has to be on our team."

The 20th-ranked Cougars (18-5, 6-5 Pac-10) are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the year, a 74-50 thumping of USC. The Beavers are one shy of the school record of 14 straight losses, but they gave California and Stanford trouble on the road last week, and the Bears and Cardinal beat WSU in Pullman.

"Our team is playing at a pretty high level," said Kevin Mouton, who was promoted from assistant coach to interim head coach after Jay John was fired at Oregon State six games ago. "We're just making some mental mistakes at the offensive and defensive end toward the end of ball games."

As soon as Mouton was promoted, he booted talented malcontent C.J. Giles off the team. Bennett said the Beavers are pressing more, playing more zone defense and using more players under Mouton, but Mouton's greatest achievement may be pumping new life into senior forward Marcel Jones.

"Our coaching staff sat down with Marcel," Mouton explained. "I think it was last Tuesday.

"We were just blatantly honest with him with what we thought about how he was playing."

Jones, who led the Beavers with 15.3 points per game last season and considered turning pro, responded with 15 points at Cal and 13 at Stanford after being yanked out of the starting lineup. He's still averaging just 10.6 points with dismal shooting percentages of 36 from the field, 30 on 3-pointers and 57 at the free-throw line, but Mouton said Jones was slacking most on defense and rebounding.


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