Bennett: Emotions will be high on Saturday

BEYOND THE EMOTION of Senior Day and going for a seventh straight win over Washington, there's a lot at stake for Washington State in the regular season finale Saturday. The question said Tony Bennett is whether the Cougs will set aside emotions and come out fired up and ready to take care of business, or if they're going to start off like jello in a paint can shaker.

Bennett said the emotions are sure to be flowing on Saturday when a senior group that includes starters Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill, and who that helped lead Washington State to hoops prominence these past two seasons, is introduced for the final time on Friel Court. Bennett said the immediate challenge will be in getting down to business and securing a win.

"We're going to come out like gangbusters or we're going to be like jello," Bennett quipped. "Hopefully we'll deal with all that and then we'll get to playing...They've had to fight and scrap for every bit of success they've had and at times they've, we've, been overwhelmed but they've done it collectively...they've done it as a group and I think people in Pullman and at Washington State identify with that."

The starting time of the game on Saturday is 4:30 p.m. and there's a question on if students may leave town before then to begin spring break.

"I certainly hope not because it's a special day but that's one of those things that's out of our control," said Bennett.

The dorms at Washington State will remain open on Saturday to encourage students to stick around for the final hoops game in Pullman. Bennett said he and Lorenzo Romar before the season kicked around the possibility of trying to move the game to Wednesday of this week but it wasn't a substantive discussion.

WITH 10 WINS in arguably the toughest conference in the nation, the Cougs are a lock for the NCAA Tourney. But success there could hinge on what the Cougs do on Saturday in Pullman, and then in the Pac-10 Tourney.

That's because the Cougs' seeding in the Big Dance could in large part depend on the next few games. Falter, and the chances for a more difficult first round matchup increase.

Washington State (22-7, 10-7) also needs a win at home on Saturday to secure a winning record at home in Pac-10 play, currently at 4-4.

"The team that's playing the best basketball wins...Yes, the home court helps you but it doesn't affect teams as much in our league because of the balance (in teams) 2-9," said Bennett. "...Washington is playing good basketball and they're very capable."

Washington is 7-10 in league play but beat UCLA and Arizona last month, two teams that swept their season series against the Cougs, who are ranked No. 22 in the nation in the Coaches' Poll, No. 23 in the AP.

THE FUTURE CHALLENGE FOR BENNETT will be to replace that group of key seniors and continue to build the program. The incoming class of 2008 is more athletic than was the group that will be honored on Saturday. But it will be hard work that will determine if they're going to be as successful, or climb above their predecessors' accomplishments.

"Maybe this group coming has a little more gloss, they're a little higher regarded....If that group coming in will have that type of cohesiveness and if they will develop the same way then I'll be very pleased. Will they have that hunger to want to keep this program going in the right direction," said Bennett.

BUT THE IMMEDIATE need is to focus on getting a win after a disappointing loss at Stanford. The Cougs could get a boost with a return to full strength of Daven Harmeling. The redshirt junior forward played only three minutes against Stanford after sitting out the Cal game last week with a bum ankle.

Bennett said Tuesday Harmeling will practice this week with the hope he'll be 100 percent by the time Saturday rolls around.

The Cougs will also benefit if Harmeling rediscovers his shooting touch. He's shooting 43 percent from the field, 38 percent from beyond the arc headed into the UW game. Last year, he shot 48 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

  • Bennett said Weaver (calcium deposit) is not bothering him to any great degree. "It's just something he has to deal with..I think when he's out there he's dealing with it pretty well," said Bennett.

  • Dick Bennett is traveling by train from Wisconsin and will arrive in Pullman this week to watch the regular season finale. The elder Bennett will also take in the Pac-10 tournament. "I'm sure the guys will be excited to see him and talk to him. Knowing him, he'll probably have something going for them. I just think he's excited to see them."

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