Second game in row, Cougs prevail in crunch

CORVALLIS -- It is still very early in the Pac-10 season. Got a long way to go. Anything can happen between now and March. Every team in the league appears capable of winning on a given night. Still, Washington State's 61-57 overtime win Thursday night at Oregon State may prove pivotal down the road.

A Cougar team that had struggled so badly so often after halftime this season has now rallied after halftime to win the past two games, and Thursday's win was particularly noteworthy in that it required a rally from nine points down midway through the second half.

"It means we can win the Pac-10," WSU point guard Taylor Rochestie blurted. "It's not going to be easy."

Rochestie, bless his enthusiastic soul, is probably half right. If winning a conference championship was easy, WSU probably would have done so at least once since their most recent title way, way, WAY back in (blush) 1941.

As for Rochestie's first statement … uh, let's not get too carried away. Oregon State is much improved and playing hard for new coach Craig Robinson, but facts are facts: The Cougars have more talent than the Beavers.

The Cougars know how to win more than the Beavers.

Last but not least, the Cougars damn never should have fallen behind by nine twice in the second half against a team that returned virtually all the players who "helped" the Beavers finish 0-18 in the Pac-10 last season.

"We let down mentally way too much tonight," Rochestie said.

"Our defense was crappy," coach Tony Bennett said.

Mind you, Bennett was referring to the first half. The Cougars, sporting some of the worst offensive numbers in the country, nailed a season-high 65 percent of their shots -- 11 of 17 -- in the first half and still managed to trail 33-30.

"Defensively, I thought we were poor early," Bennett said. "That disappointed me. Then we tightened up (defensively) in the second half. We didn't allow them to get into the lane.

"The Cougars gave up just two field goals and seven points in the final 13 ½ minutes of regulation after falling behind 43-34. From that point on, WSU's four seniors divvied up 23 of the Cougars' final 27 points.

"We need our seniors to put the team on their back at certain times and just make the plays," Bennett said.

"Give credit to Washington State," Robinson said. "They've got some guys who have been through some wars against some very good teams.

"Aron Baynes (17 points and 11 rebounds) and Rochestie (14 points and seven assists) came through down the stretch for WSU along with fellow seniors Caleb Forrest (seven points and five rebounds) and Daven Harmeling (five points and three rebounds).

Harmeling, a white-hot 3-point shooter at times during his college career, had gone scoreless in four games before he sank a pair of free throws in the first half. Then, with 1:50 left in regulation, he drained a 3-pointer that proved to be the final points before overtime.

"Was I in a drought?" Harmeling deadpanned afterward.

"We need him to shoot it, whether he's 0 for 5 in the game or 6 for 6," said Rochestie, who played all 45 minutes. "It comes down to, he's a great shooter."

"I never lost confidence in my shot," Harmeling insisted.Bennett also praised Harmeling's defensive contributions along with those of freshman guard Marcus Capers. The Beavers hit 4 of their 5 attempts from 3-point range, then missed 19 of their remaining 23 trey attempts and wound up shooting a season-low 35 percent overall from the field.

Capers produced three points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. He played just 24 points in WSU's first three Pac-10 games and totaled three rebounds and no points.

"Marcus brings a lot of energy," Harmeling said. "He's long and athletic."

"That was one of his better defensive performances," Bennett said.

WSU's top freshman, Klay Thompson, recorded another solid performance (12 points, five assists, 5-for-10 shooting, 2-for-5 on 3's) to the delight of several old friends in the stands at Gill Coliseum. Thompson, the son of former Portland Trail Blazers star Mychal Thompson, lived in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego before the family moved to Southern California when he was 14.

Thompson helped cover for DeAngelo Casto, who went to the bench with two quick fouls and played just 6 ineffective minutes all night. Bennett rewarded Casto for his fine performance last week against Stanford by giving the freshman forward his first start, replacing Forrest.

Oh well. It turned out that the Cougars didn't need Casto on this night, but the springy shot blocker may come in handy Saturday at Oregon (11 a.m., FSN). The last-place Ducks (6-11, 0-5 Pac-10) are young and athletic, but they're experiencing growth pains. The Cougars (10-6, 2-2) hope to add to their pain to build a three-game winning streak heading into next Thursday's home game against ninth-ranked UCLA.

NOTABLE: When Casto and Baynes got in to early foul trouble, Bennett called on 6-9 second-year freshman Charlie Enquist to help fill the breach. He played eight minutes, the most of his career.

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