Offensive Coug O looks here to stay

PULLMAN -- It is difficult to muster sympathy for Tony Bennett, so let's not even try. The man makes a million bucks a year. Women swoon over him. His wife is smart and good looking. If his kids were any cuter, they'd be outlawed.

Still, one can almost feel a hint of pain on Bennett's behalf when you watch him walk into every Pac-10 gunfight armed with little more than a water pistol.

Washington State, as you may have noticed, is positively atrocious on offense. The Cougars shoot basketballs as if they were medicine balls. As for creativity with the ball, there is none.


There's an old adage that coaches cannot ask athletes to perform physical tasks beyond their capabilities. So Bennett may have to stop asking his players to, say, hit open jump shots.

Not on a regular basis, anyway.

Saturday's come-from-ahead loss to USC was particularly painful. C'mon -- 19-18 at the half? And 46-44 at the end?

The Cougars were 14 of 51 from the field.

You would expect better from high school girls -- and believe me, that analogy is more offensive to the girls than the Cougars.

WSU ranks No. 310 in scoring out of the nation's 330 Division I basketball teams. In field goal accuracy, the Cougs are No. 189 (ninth in the Pac-10). From beyond-the-arc, the crimson percentage ranks 210th (tenth in the Pac-10).

Once and for all, let's hit the stop button on any talk about the Cougars returning to the NCAA Tournament. They might sneak into the NIT. Maybe there's hope for that watered-down postseason crapshoot event the Huskies backed their way into last year.

The Cougars are physically superior to only two Pac-10 teams -- Oregon State and Oregon -- and they needed overtime to nip the rebuilding Beavers and 28-for-28 free-throw shooting to hold off the last-place Ducks.

Taylor Rochestie is WSU's scoring leader, and he averages 12.2 points and shoots 39 percent from the field. Aron Baynes is second on the team in scoring (11.9) and second in the Pac-10 in field-goal shooting percentage (59.4), but he's a distant third on the team in field-goal attempts (7.5 per game).

One starter, Marcus Capers, averages 1.6 points and shoots 25 percent. Another starter, Caleb Forrest, followed a sensational performance Thursday against UCLA (19 points on 8-for-9 shooting) with a dreadful performance Saturday against USC (four points on 1-for-11 shooting). He averages 6.4 points.

The bench? Don't go there. Literally or figuratively.

In seven Pac-10 games, WSU reserves have scored 55 points (7.9 per game) on 27 percent shooting. Designated 3-point shooters Daven Harmeling and Abe Lodwick are 4 for 24 from distance (17 percent) in the Pac-10, and at least one of the two has gone scoreless in all seven conference games.

Midseason has passed. More than a third of the conference season has passed. The Cougars aren't in the midst of a scoring slump, they're in the midst of a reality check.

Forget the fact that WSU lost each of the last two games by only two points. Playing at home is always worth a few baskets either way, so what are the Cougars' chances of winning at UCLA and USC? Or, for that matter, at Stanford, a team that WSU beat by one in Pullman?

Not that Wazzu is thriving at home. After a 5-0 start at Friel Court, the Cougars have lost six of their last seven home games. They're 5-2 elsewhere, but you can bet the lawn furniture on WSU losing Thursday at Arizona State, since teams that can't shoot turn to mush in the hands of ASU's zone defenses.

With the next four games on the road, the Cougars are nearing crisis mode. The defense remains amazing, and freshmen DeAngelo Casto, Klay Thompson and Capers have performed far beyond all reasonable expectations at the defensive end.

Unfortunately, Casto and Capers are extremely raw offensively. With leading scorers Rochestie and Baynes graduating and lone junior Nikola Koprivica showing no signs of developing into a scorer, the Cougars face another year of offensive misery next season unless the gifted Thompson can boost his current scoring average of 11.5 to, oh, 41.5. At least.

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