Can Cougs be certain of March Madness invite?

PULLMAN -– Derrick Low plays basketball with determination. And when it comes to his crystal ball, he forecasts in a similar way: with conviction. Asked Monday if he thought the Cougars, who fell to 9-6 in conference play on Saturday, are a lock for a berth to the Big Dance, he was unequivocal.

"We should be in," Derrick Low said flatly after WSU completed a shorter, brisk practice Monday afternoon. "I don't see why they wouldn't put us in the tournament.

"We're in the best conference in the nation. I hope they don't decide to put some ‘maybe' team from a weak conference over us.

"We had our losses in the best conference. We should be in, but a couple more wins wouldn't hurt. We're definitely going to try to finish as best as possible."

Right now, the only conference teams that are bona fide locks for March Madness are UCLA and Stanford.

Pac-10 coaches have contended for weeks that a 9-9 conference record merits an NCAA bid (despite the fact it never has in the past -- ever). The Cougars, ranked 22nd in both polls Monday, are 21-6 overall and 9-6 in league (third place) with three games left in the regular season. Their ESPN bracketology forecast has plummeted to a seventh seed.

None of the remaining games are gimmes, to be certain. WSU visits California on Thursday (8 p.m., FSN) and No. 8 Stanford on Saturday (1 p.m., FSN), then plays host to Washington on Senior Day on Saturday, March 8 (4:30 p.m., FSN).

WSU has won six straight over Washington. However, the Huskies gave the Cougars a great test last time out, and California and Stanford were each missing a key starter when they won close games in Pullman earlier this season.

The seventh-place Bears have dropped three of their last four games and five of their last six home games, but you can never look past a team with All-America candidate Ryan Anderson. The 6-foot-10 sophomore can drain 3's or pound it inside. He leads the Pac-10 with 21.8 points per game (14th in NCAA Division I through Sunday) and ranks third in the Pac-10 with 10.2 rebounds (19th in Division I).

Anderson has recorded double-doubles in five of the past six games. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds Sunday at Cal (despite a 2-for-13 shooting night), and in the last meeting with WSU, Anderson racked up 27 points and nine boards.

"I think he got a little too comfortable on us," WSU defensive whiz Kyle Weaver said. "He had a big night. We can't let that happen.

"Our ‘bigs' will be on him. We need to do a better job as a team of making him work to get the ball, and when he does have it, make him shoot tough shots."

Stanford shooting guard Anthony Goods sat out the game at WSU with an ankle injury, and he's struggled to hit shots most of the season. However, he tied his career high with 30 points against WSU last season, and he poured in 20 Sunday in a home win over Cal. The second-place Cardinal (22-4, 11-3) is 14-1 at home.

By the way, here's the regular-season win totals of WSU's five previous NCAA entries: 22 in 1941, 21 in 1980, 22 in 1983, 20 in 1994 and 24 in 2007.

The Cougars will set season total and average home attendance school records when the Huskies come to town in the regular-season finale.

WSU has drawn 109,453 fans (9,121 average) to Friel Court. The school records are 110,206 total in 1979-80 and a 9,385 average in 1976-77. The six sellouts this season, counting the Washington game, are believed to be a school record.

Opponents routinely make comments -- some kind, some … well, not so kind -- about WSU's rowdy fans. The Friel crowd was unusually tame at last Thursday's game with Arizona State, but they were back in form Saturday against Arizona.

"The crowd was great tonight," WSU coach Tony Bennett said after the loss to the Wildcats. "They tried to get us going."

WSU senior forward Robbie Cowgill is a favorite with reporters because of his glib, articulate manner and remarkably upbeat attitude. Still, even Cowgill was running out of verbiage after an hour-plus of interviews Monday.

"I'm going to take a vow of silence," Cowgill joked. "I would sign (use sign language), but that's probably not as good."

WSU point guard Taylor Rochestie decided to go on the offensive after teammates chided in for being mentioned as a certified cutie during a Seattle radio station's Valentine's Day promotion. Rochestie's "heartthrob" status was brought to light on

"It was the worst thing ever when he found that article," Cowgill joked. "We haven't been teasing him too much -- he's the one bringing it up. Like, we'll be walking by him in the locker room, and he'll drop the article on the floor and go, ‘Oh, what's this?' and he'll start reading it."

Despite some well-documented defensive lapses against Arizona, the Cougars remain third in the nation with 55.5 points allowed per game. The Cougars also rank third in turnovers (10.2), seventh in personal fouls (14.7) and 11th in assist-turnover ratio (1.35).

Cal and Stanford also rank with the nation's best statistically. The Bears stand fourth in free-throw percentage (77.8), and Stanford is second in rebound margin (10.0), eighth in points allowed (58.3) and 10th in field-goal percentage defense (38.3).

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