HOOPS COMMENTARY: Cougar coaches shine

IT'S JUST MY OPINION, but … coaches coach, players play. Nothing makes basketball lovers cringe more routinely than hearing Brent Musburger or some other talking head make it sound like the athletes are almost incidental to the men wearing suits on the sidelines when it comes to winning or losing college basketball games.

That said, the mental and physical strategies employed by Washington State coach Tony Bennett and his staff on Saturday at Oregon -- and soaked up by their players like water in the desert -- were right out of Basketball Thesis 101. Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden would have been proud -- not to mention Dick Bennett.


The Cougars made an explosive, smart, veteran basketball team look utterly confused, inept and helpless. A tip of the hat to Bennett, trusty assistants Ben Johnson, Ron Sanchez and Matt Woodley and behind-the-scenes hands Mike Heideman and Ronnie Wideman. Truly a job expertly done.

Bennett's most amazing feat at WSU is not winning 20 games in his first two years on the job. No, Bennett's crowning achievement is that he made it look so easy.

Honestly, does it seem possible that, less than two calendar years ago, the Cougars were putting the wraps on a 10th consecutive losing season? Good grief -- it was barely 10 DAYS ago when the villagers were running amok because the Cougars -- now ranked No. 17 -- dared to lose three straight games to quality opponents.

FIVE GAMES REMAIN in the regular season. Two are on the road against top-notch teams (California and Stanford) that won in Pullman. The three remaining guests at Friel Court (Arizona State, Arizona and Washington) all gave the Cougars trouble the first time around.

Lose five straight, plus your first game or two at the Pac-10 tournament, and the Cougars could still find themselves in the NIT. But the way things shape up right now, plans on booking a flight for Anaheim and/or Denver. That's where the Cougars figure to be in the first round of the Big Dance.

Come tourney time, the Cougars will only go as far as Kyle Weaver's right leg carries them. He led the Cougars in scoring four straight games -- capped by the best game of his life against USC -- before hobbling around the court at Oregon State in a forgettable performance, then rebounding to move and play well at Oregon while wearing a sleeve on the bad leg.

The pain, caused by calcium deposits in his shin, comes and goes. Trainer Bill Drake might be the most important man on the bench the rest of the way.

DERRICK LOW'S STEELY eyed performance at Oregon was one for the ages. In prior years, there's no way the laid-back Hawaiian could have handled the loud-mouthed Low impersonator (complete with a pony-tailed wig and poor man's Low jersey) in the front row of the infamous Pit Crew student section at Mac Court.

Low stuck daggers in the heart of his antagonist by opening the game with a brilliant shooting display from long range. Low's "hater" -- actually, the Oregon student seemed like a nice kid who was just trying to help the home team -- soon gave his fake hair and jersey the heave-ho after Low made him eat crow with the sizzling start.

"I couldn't take it anymore," the kid explained.

MAC COURT, BY TODAY'S arena standards, is a dump. It's too hot and too small, the restrooms and concession stands are a joke, and droves of Oregon fans head to the chiropractor after spending two hours gyrating every which way to peer around girders to watch the action on the floor.

Oh, but what a marvelous dump it is. Oregon's ancient palace of hoops is absolutely teeming with history and atmosphere and fun … not to mention season tickets that cost just a tad bit less than the estimated $6,000-plus that lower-level seats will cost in the first season in the proposed new arena.

YES, I SHARE YOUR desire to see Aron Baynes grow some hands on the end of those long, beefy arms. I groan right along with you when he draws those early, needless fouls. I understand your concern when Baynes is forced to guard quicker, more athletic players -- and there are plenty of them out there.

Never forget, however, that Baynes is a big man with a big heart when it comes to playing basketball. And on Saturday, Baynes never moved better at both ends of the floor, particularly on defense against a bunch of 3-point gunners who can spread out and run ragged the most athletic of defenders.

ESPN'S ANDY KATZ fired the first shot in the second annual Where Will Tony Bennett Coach Next Year Sweepstakes. Katz wrote that Bennett seems like a logical candidate to replace ex-Cougar coach Kelvin Sampson if Indiana elects to take away Sampson's cell phone for the common good of everyone except Verizon.

Get used to it, Coug fans. Every job that pays far more, provides far more exposure and gives Bennett a far better chance to win big on an annual basis will have his name attached to it in one form or another for as long as he's in Pullman.

Cougfan Top Stories