Bennett: Play hard, let chips fall where may

COUGAR BASKETBALL fans consumed with calculating ways the Washington State men's basketball team can gain entrance into a post-season tournament apparently lack a significant ally. Coach Tony Bennett Tuesday said that trying to count potential victories out of the seven regular-season games remaining is not where he, or his players, need to be going into a home game Thursday against Oregon.

What makes more sense, he said, is for the players to just concentrate on playing well and, when the season is over, see where that leaves them.

"I just want our guys to play with a sense of urgency, battle their guts out, bring as much soundness as we talked about after the Stanford game and see where that puts us at the end of the year," Bennett said during his weekly teleconference. "That, quite honestly, is where I'm at, as opposed to looking at records and numbers and what this team is doing and what that team is doing."

After losing five of their past six games, including road losses at Stanford and California last week, the Cougars are 12-11 overall and 4-7 (eighth place) in the Pac-10. They have home games remaining against Oregon (7 p.m. tomorrow, no TV), Oregon State on Saturday (4 p.m., FSN), Arizona State and Arizona and road games at UCLA, USC and Washington.

The situation with this season's young team is a far cry from the past two years when the Cougars played in consecutive NCAA tournaments – as a No. 3 seed in 2007 when they beat Oral Roberts and lost to Vanderbilt in overtime and as a No. 4 seed last year, when they beat Winthrop and Notre Dame before losing to North Carolina in a Sweet 16 game.

Having the experience that comes from playing in an NCAA tournament is something Bennett would like for his young team this year.

"I think the valuable thing about post-season play, without a doubt, is just the experience," Bennett said. "Nonconference to conference play is different. Conference play to Pac-10 tournament play is different. Pac-10 tournament play to NCAA tournament play is completely different.

"Those experiences, just for the consistency of your program, can really be helpful."

Meanwhile, the Oregon Ducks are coming to Pullman without a Pac-10 win. They lost to the Cougars earlier this season in Eugene, 74-62.

"They've played 20 minutes, 30 minutes of good basketball and then had some stretches that really hurt them," Bennett said of the Ducks. "They'll be a team as hungry as can be."

As for the Cougars?

"For us, it comes down to playing with a sense or urgency at home and taking what they did against Cal and building on it," Bennett said.

Bennett said he liked the way the Cougars played in their most recent game, a 71-63 loss at Cal.

"It was one of our better games," Bennett said. "But it wasn't enough."

NOTABLE:

  • Daven Harmeling and Taylor Rochestie have been named to the ESPN The Magazine regional All-Academic first team. Harmeling has a 3.54 grade point average in health and fitness. Rochestie has a 3.37 grade point average and is majoring in communications. He leads the team with 12.6 points and 4.7 assists per game while ranked eighth in the nation with a 90.5 free throw percentage.

  • Freshman Klay Thompson is a perfect 22 of 22 from the free throw line this season. He also leads the team in three-point shooting accuracy, hitting nearly 42 percent. He's second on the team in rebounds behind Aron Baynes, second in assists and steals behind Rochestie, and second in playing time, averaging 32.3 minutes per game, behind Rochestie's 36 minutes.

  • The Cougars have blocked 97 shots this season – that's just five fewer than the team had all of last season. DeAngelo Casto, with 28, and Baynes, with 26, are leading the way.

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