Questions abound as Cougs lose down stretch

TALK ABOUT A roller coaster of styles. LSU, looking to run and bomb away, and Washington State, playing hard-nosed D and shutting down the transition, collided in the Land of Maravich and put on an intersectional donnybrook for 37 minutes, 52 seconds on Saturday. The final two minutes, eight seconds were a nightmare that will no doubt have every Cougar fan dreaming tonight of Weaver and Low.

But for the longest time at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, this game was a dandy.

There were the Tigers, taking every chance to run, building a six-point lead early in the second half. There were the Cougars, turning up the defense and hitting some timely shots, fighting back to take a seven-point lead midway through the final period. There were the Tigers taking control of the tempo to then go up by three before the Cougars slowed things down again to stay within one until the 2:08 mark.

In the end, the Cougs committed a cardinal sin in the Church of Bennett. They didn't take care of the ball. They didn't shoot it well down the stretch either. But in Bennett's parish, defense and ball care reign supreme. The Cougs committed a mind-numbing 18 turnovers in this game -- a rash of them, many involving Aron Baynes, coming late. This ultimate sin doomed what looked for awhile like it could be WSU's first win this season against a "name" team.

But like the Pitt, Baylor and Gonzaga games that came before, this one was not to be.

LSU 64, WSU 52.

The Tigers scored 24 of the game's last 29 points. The streak included a 10-0 run over the final 2:08.

The Cougars are now 8-4. Twelve games into their first season without Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill, the questions abound.

Can they resist the temptation of a long three when dumping the ball into the post might make more sense? Can they figure out any offensive consistency? Can Klay Thompson mature faster? Can Taylor Rochestie get into a consistent rhythm? Can Baynes put some glue on his hands?

Two questions, though, really burn bright:

Can the Cougars close the deal? Can they look pressure in the face and not blink?

They hung tough on the road Saturday against a solid and well-coached Trent Johnson team. But they collapsed in the end. They played tough against Gonzaga for a half, and then melted in the second. They went down to the wire with Baylor, but folded like a K mart deck chair in crunch time. They were within three of No. 4 Pitt at halftime, but were schooled over the final 20 minutes.

This was Cougars' final non-conference game before opening Pac-10 play Jan. 3 in Pullman against Washington. And the uncertainty over what to expect seems as palatable now as it was in September.

Are they good enough to win or just decent enough to get close?

Only time will tell. And Jan. 3 figures to be a major crossroads in that journey.

NOTABLE NOTES:
• Three Cougars scored in double-figures at LSU: Rochestie 14, Thompson 12 and Caleb Forrest 10.
• Rochestie, who played all 40 minutes of the game, was WSU's leading rebounder with nine. Baynes and Thompson had five each.
• The Cougars only got seven points in 51 minutes of collective playing time from their bench.
• LSU, now 10-1, shot just 38.9 from the field, but hit an impressive 9 of 20 from beyond the arc.
• Sharp-shooting Daven Harmeling played 23 minutes and didn't take a shot.
• Baynes and Thompson led the Cougars' turnover parade with four each. Rochestie and Nikola Koprivica had three each.
• The Cougs had just five assists in the game.

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