Offense the watchword when Cougs face Gonzaga

NO DOUBT AT some point former Washington State players Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill will be recalled with fondness by fans of the Cougars' men's basketball team when it plays Gonzaga in a regionally televised game Wednesday night in Pullman.

How often those memories kick in will depend on how successful the Cougars are in executing an offense worthy of Low, Weaver and Cowgill, central figures in the rise to prominence of WSU basketball and who played key roles in back-to-back victories over Gonzaga the past two seasons.

While the Cougars of 2008-09 have performed well in the execution of Bennett-ball defense, the once consistent offense as personified by Low, Weaver and Cowgill has struggled in the two games the Cougars have lost – to Pittsburgh, ranked No. 4 nationally at the time, and to No. 24 Baylor.

Now comes this week's No. 4, the Cougars' geographic -- and unbeaten -- rivals from Spokane.

"We've played solid defense and that will be tested more than it ever has by Gonzaga," WSU coach Tony Bennett said during his weekly teleconference on Tuesday.

The offense?

"That's where we're a little different this year, (having) two or three guys on the floor who can make a play," he said.

FROM THE PERIMETER, freshman Klay Thompson and senior Taylor Rochestie have provide bursts of offense; inside, Aron Baynes, with his 62.7 shooting percentage, has been something of a pillar. Combined, the three are averaging 33 points, more than half of the team's average of 61.5.

But the supporting cast, dominated by freshmen, has provided, at best, inconsistent support.

And despite his double-figure scoring average and point-guard responsibilities, Rochestie has attracted the attention of fans and foes for what appears to be an old-fashioned shooting slump. In the 57-43 loss to Pitt, he made just 2 of 9 field-goal attempts (0 for 3 from 3-point range) and in the 58-52 loss to Baylor he was 3 for 14 (1 for 4).

"Keep playing" is the advice Bennett said he can give Rochestie. "I thought he played better even though you look at his shooting stats against Baylor and say it wasn't as good. But he needs to be assertive and just have that balance – keep finding ways and using teammates."

ONE THING IS for sure: Rochestie and his teammates will be trying to improve the Cougars' offense in a charged-up atmosphere. WSU vs. Gonzaga has become a basketball rivalry as big or bigger than any in the Northwest.

"It's a big game," Bennett said. ‘Every time you play Gonzaga our guys are very excited. We know we have to play at an efficient and high level to be in the game."

BENNETT SAID the atmosphere surrounding the game is "good for basketball in the Northwest.

"The fact we've become competitive and had some success there's excitement in our town and on our campus. Last year when we went to Gonzaga that was quite an atmosphere. That's what kids love; that's what you want your program to be, in those kinds of situations.

"They're hard games to play, certainly, but good for your program and good preparation for your conference. It certainly is a good thing. I do like what it's become."

Now, if only he could count on Low, Weaver and Cowgill.

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