PULLMAN -- Tony Bennett was effortlessly handling the usual barrage of questions aimed his way during his weekly teleconference when one question caused him to pause Tuesday. A reporter wanted to know if Kyle Weaver does more things well for his team than any other player in the land. Not just this year -- but ever.
Bennett, never one for hyperbole, needed a moment or two to gather his thoughts.
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Then he responded with a question of his own.
"Oscar Robertson?" Bennett asked.
Bennett followed the comment with a laugh. He certainly didn't mean to imply that Weaver ranks with the Final Four, Olympic Games and NBA legend who truly is one of the greatest college and pro basketball players of all time.
Still, it is an indicator of Bennett's respect for Weaver's game that Robertson came up in the conversation when the Washington State coach was discussing the myriad skills of his senior guard/wing/point guard/forward/whatever.
"He's so complete," Bennett said.
THE BIG O: Robertson soars at 1959 NCAA tourney.
Weaver doesn't lead the Pac-10 in any statistics, and he only leads the Cougars in steals. But he can fill a stats sheet with the best of 'em, and ESPN's Jay Bilas has pushed Weaver as a candidate for national defensive player of the year.
Last weekend, in connection with the NBA All-Star Game, Bilas picked Weaver as the starting small forward on the "West All-Stars" selected from colleges west of the Mississippi. Weaver averages 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.8 steals and .68 blocked shots per game. He's knocking down 48 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 42 percent of his 3-pointers (after sinking just 21 percent the previous three years), and 74 percent of his free throws.
Weaver has been nursing a sore right shin (calcium deposits) most of the season, but his mobility never appeared to be seriously impaired until last Thursday at Oregon State. He moved with ease Saturday at Oregon.
"It felt a lot better than on Thursday," Weaver said.
"He fought through it … everyone at this stage is banged up," Bennett said.
The 17th-ranked Cougars (20-5 overall, 8-5 in the Pac-10) can certainly use a healthy Weaver for two home games this week. Arizona State
comes to town Thursday (6 p.m., FSN), and Arizona
follows on Saturday (7 p.m., FSN).
Both of the visiting teams are led by dynamic freshman guards who can hurt you from the perimeter, on penetration and by drawing fouls.
leads the Pac-10 with 2.0 steals and ranks fourth in scoring at 18.0 for the Sun Devils (16-8, 6-6), who lost 56-55 to WSU on Jan. 26. Jerryd Bayless
of Arizona (6-6, 16-9) ranks a close second to California's Ryan Anderson in scoring at 21.1 ppg, and he's fourth in assists at 4.4.
Bayless is riding a school-record string of three consecutive 30-point games (39, 33 and 31). He scored 23 in a brilliant effort at both ends of the floor Jan. 24 when the 'Cats badly outplayed WSU in a 76-64 decision.
Oscar Robertson isn't the only big name Weaver has been compared to this season. FSN commentators Marques Johnson and Bob Weiss have likened him, respectively, to former Arkansas and NBA All-Star Sydney Moncrief and former Sonics standout Nate McMillan.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN's March Madness bracketology expert, this week has the Cougars slotted for a No. 5 seed in Denver, with an opening round game against Davidson.
About 400 tickets are left for Thursday's game against ASU. The Arizona contest and the one other remaining home game (Washington on March 8) are sold out.
NBADraft.net projects Arizona's Bayless as the No. 4 pick in this year's NBA draft. Weaver dropped from 21st to 27th this week. Teammate Derrick Low moved up one spot to 53rd. Bayless' 21.1 scoring average equals the Pac-10 freshman record set by Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 1995-96.
The Sun Devils, the only Pac-10 team that relies primarily on zone defenses, has lost the last two meetings with the Cougars by one point despite yielding a total of just 104 points. "We're working on new ways to attack their zone," forward Robbie Cowgill said. "Obviously, what we've been doing the last two times hasn't been too successful."
The Cougars recruited Harden and fellow ASU freshman Ty Abbott. The latter buried eight 3-pointers and scored 30 points in a loss to Cal last Saturday.
Arizona's reserves were outscored 40-2 in two games last week. WSU's reserves were outscored 38-2 at Oregon State … Arizona is missing starting point guard Nic Wise (knee) … Arizona hasn't been ranked in the Top 25 polls for weeks, but the Wildcats are 17th and WSU 23rd in the latest RPI ratings of the NCAA. Arizona State is 72nd, but the Sun Devils and Texas are the only teams with two or more wins against teams in the current Associated Press Top 25.
Dick Bennett, Tony's father and predecessor as WSU's head coach, canceled a planned visit to Pullman this week after blizzards hit back home in Wisconsin. The elder Bennett, who often watches the Cougars on television, now plans to watch the team live for the first time this season when Washington visits. Tony said his dad will follow the Cougars to Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament.
WSU is 3-3 at home in Pac-10 play, 5-2 on the road. The Cougars rank third in the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday) with 55.5 points allowed and 10.3 turnovers. … Low leads the Pac-10 in 3-pointers made per game (2.6), and teammate Taylor Rochestie leads in assists (4.8) and assist-turnover ratio (2.9). That last mark ranks 10th in the nation ... WSU center Aron Baynes leads the Pac-10 in field-goal shooting percentage (60.0).
WSU's March 1 game at Stanford has been picked up by FSN. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.