Bennett wants Cougs 'neck-up' in second half

TONY BENNETT, BY voicing one of his father's basketball coaching theories, has urged his Washington State men's team players to improve their "neck-up game" when they begin the second half of the Pac-10 Conference schedule Thursday night at Stanford.

"So much of the second half becomes a ‘neck-up' kind of game," Bennett said on Tuesday.

"Neck up" of course refers to the game's mental aspects and, if properly adhered to, .

The Cougars finished the first half of the Pac-10 schedule with a 4-5 record and tied with Arizona for sixth place. Oddly, they were 1-4 at home and 3-1 on the road.

Among the things Bennett told his players this week was that they've played every team in the league and discovered that they can play with any rival and "perhaps beat them." Washington, which beat WSU 68-48 in the league opener, "may be the one you'd say … you didn't show you could."

"In the second half there's probably seven or eight teams in the same boat," Bennett said. "They realize they can play with almost everybody and perhaps beat them. Obviously, the opposite is that if you're not sharp you'll be beat yourself.

"It comes down to eliminating the mental errors and the unforced errors. If you do that you'll have a chance. If we can take away some of these unforced errors and mental errors and keep cleaning it up we have enough to perhaps make a push in the second half. "

At Stanford, the Cougars will be playing the one Pac-10 team they have beaten at home, 55-54 on Jan. 10.

"You're going to go into their place against a team that's lost a lot of close games, with veterans, and they're going to come after you," Bennett said. "They're going to be so hungry."

But by winning at Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State during the first half of the Pac-10 season the Cougars proved that they can win on the road.

Bennett isn't sure why.

"Sometimes kids relax more on the road," Bennett said. "They know it's got to be about them and their teammates and they play a little more focused and relaxed. At home, sometimes with younger kids, there are more distractions. You're playing in front of your friends.

"Why we've played better on the road than at home? I don't know if it's that we've played better or if it's just there might have been some stretches that have cost us at home."

Generally, the Pac-10 has not been a graveyard for visiting teams this season. WSU is one of six teams that have played at a .500 level or better on the road, led by co-leaders UCLA and Washington at 4-1. Overall, teams are 20-25 on foreign courts.

"Is the league as good as last year," asked Bennett. "Probably not. But it's certainly more balanced than last year. That is a situation where you've got to try and make the most of it."

Beginning by playing a "neck up" kind of game.

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