Rochestie needs to pick up game, says Bennett

NEWARK, N.J. -- The anger and frustration in Washington State coach Tony Bennett's voice rattled off the thousands of empty seats at the Prudential Center.

"Get your head in the game, Rochestie!" Bennett screamed at Taylor Rochestie after a misplay early in the second half of Friday night's semifinals at the Legends Classic. Bennett later acknowledged that Rochestie, Washington State's senior floor leader, made a number of solid contributions in the win over Mississippi State.

Still, the coach was not pleased about Rochestie committing four turnovers for the second straight game."That's too many," Bennett said.

Imagine Bennett's chagrin one night later during Saturday night's title game. Rochestie made eight turnovers, missed 7 of 9 shots, recorded only six points and four assists and was thoroughly outplayed at both ends of the court by rival point guard Levance Fields in a 57-43 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh.

"Bluntly, you can't have a point guard that puts up the numbers I put up," Rochestie said outside a subdued Cougar locker room. Rochestie has always been quick to accept blame for things gone awry.

That said, he needs to be even quicker in straightening out his game if the Cougars are going to approach the success enjoyed by the previous two WSU teams.

"We need him to pick it up for us," Bennett said Saturday after Rochestie accounted for more than half of WSU's 15 turnovers. Fields, meanwhile, had none of Pitt's eight turnovers and scored half of his 14 points in the last 5 minutes to fuel a decisive 11-0 run after the Cougars had pulled within six.

"Coach is saying sometimes I try to do too much, sometimes I'm not doing enough," Rochestie said. "I've got to find that happy medium is what he's saying."

Rochestie summarized his performance as "unacceptable. Same as last night. I came to New Jersey and played two bad games."

A year ago, Rochestie moved into the starting lineup and established himself as a heady, rock-solid player on a 26-win team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Rochestie had plenty of moments in the sun, but often served primarily as a ball distributor for players like seniors Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver.

Rochestie averaged 10.4 points, 4.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game, shot 42 percent from 3-point range and ranked 10th in NCAA Division I with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.8 (165 assists, 56 turnovers).

Through six games this season, Rochestie is averaging 10.0 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals and shooting 38 percent on 3's. All those numbers are respectable, but Rochestie already has 20 turnovers.

"It's a little harder, because there's no more Derrick and Kyle. Now he's our main guy," junior wing Nikola Koprivica said. "He needs to create for us and create for himself."

Koprivica continued, "We need to create for him a little more. We should get him some open shots so he doesn't need to work every time so hard to get his shots."He gets too hard on himself. He'll get over it."

Koprivica seemed anything but discouraged over the loss to Pitt. Despite the lackluster performances of Rochestie, season scoring leader Klay Thompson (all seven of his points came in the first eight minutes) and senior center Aron Baynes (seven points, five rebounds), the Cougars trailed by three at the half and by six with 5 minutes to go. Two gritty defensive teams held one another to 35 percent shooting.

"We're a young team still in the first few games," Koprivica said, "but I think if we can keep up with how we played in the first half -- with less turnovers -- we can play with anybody.

"That's a good thing to know, and I think it will give us a lot of confidence."

Bennett said he brought the Cougars 3,000 miles east so he could find out more about his team against good competition. Bennett said the learning experience in Newark produced mixed results.

"I've learned, even more this year than any year, we are walking that fine line," Bennett said. "If we're not clicking or break down defensively, we don't have the guys who can make up for it offensively."

That is an exaggeration, of course. Baynes will dominate inside at times; Thompson's jump shot is a thing of beauty on many nights; Daven Harmeling can get white-hot from trey land; Koprivica is much improved; and Rochestie is a proven entity.

Still, it was unsettling for Bennett and perhaps even the stoic-faced Thompson and his teammates to see Jermaine Dixon -- a superb defender, mind you -- completely shut down Thompson. The freshman guard, who was averaging 13.6 points, missed his last eight shots after a 3-for-4 start.

"He (Dixon) didn't give him any clean looks," Bennett said.Thompson was WSU's lone representative on the all-tournament team. Thompson piled up 19 points and 10 rebounds Friday, but he was one of several Cougars who looked spent in the second half Saturday.

"We got fatigued," Bennett said. "We broke down physically and mentally."

"We've got to stay mentally intact for 40 minutes," Rochestie said. "We showed some good things and we showed some signs of just being fatigued and tired."

In the end, Bennett said, "We just got outplayed." Rochestie pleads guilty as charged.

"I can't go out there," he concluded, "and have four assists and eight turnovers."

* Bennett said he was pleased with the play of freshmen Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto, who played at the same time as Thompson for a good chunk of the second half. "They gave us a little bit of life," Bennett said. "You're holding your head sometimes, but you've got to let them cut their teeth."

* A win likely would have vaulted the 5-1 Cougars into the Top 25. WSU's only victory in 73 meetings with top-five teams came in 1980 against No. 4 Oregon State.

* Bennett had been 19-0 in November in three years as WSU's head coach. Jamie Dixon is 31-0 in November since he was promoted to replace Ben Howland six years ago when Howland left Pittsburgh to take the UCLA job.

* The Cougars had won 21 straight nonconference games in the regular season since December 2006. That ranks second in school history to a 23-game skein in the 1930s.

* WSU and Pitt had never met in basketball. The Cougars are 6-5 all-time against Big East teams; Pitt is 8-17 against Pac-10 teams.

* Pitt has started 7-0 for the seventh straight year. The Cougars started 7-0 two years ago and 14-0 last year.Perhaps two dozen WSU fans attended the games in Newark. The Panthers had quite a few more fans, since Pittsburgh is much closer to New Jersey and four Pitt players hail from New Jersey or bordering New York.

* Pitt is one of nine schools that has been represented in the NCAA Tournament seven straight years. … Tournament MVP Sam Young led the Panthers with 15 points. An honorable mention All-American last year, Young faked defenders off their feet several times. "He's got a world-class ball fake," said Bennett, who praised Casto for helping limit Young to three points in the second half. … Young's take on the Cougars: "They're tough. They're scrappy."

* Pitt recruited Thompson briefly, but Jamie Dixon said he sensed early that Thompson preferred playing in the Pac-10.

* The Cougars stayed in nearby Manhattan and visited Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site before 9/11.

* Pittsburgh native Dick Groat, who starred on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates world championship baseball team, is in his 30th year as color analyst for Pitt TV and radio broadcasts. Groat starred in basketball and baseball and Duke. A four-time All-American in basketball, he remains the only NCAA Division I player to lead the nation in scoring and assists in the same season. He played one year in the NBA before concentrating solely on baseball. Groat was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame last year.

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