Aron Baynes (AP/Dean Hare)
For Coach Tony Bennett and the Washington State Cougars, what a difference a win can make. Or does it?
The Cougs limped into Pac-10 play, wincing from losses to every quality opponent on their non-conference schedule. That's a level of consistency admired by no one in Cougar Nation.
Coaches and players alike knew that it would take time to develop the chemistry necessary to compete at the highest level in college basketball. Despite that knowledge, many expected WSU would continue the roll enjoyed over the past two seasons.
Sure, Coach Bennett was "reloading" this year. He had the richest level of talent ever recruited to play on the hardwood of Friel Court. That combination of talent and a national Coach of the Year should mean 10 wins before entering conference play.
Conventional wisdom was that Coach Bennett's troops would mature rapidly as a result of losing four of their first 12 games.
Some might snap a knee-jerk response after losing the first two Pac-10 games to Washington and Cal: "Didn't happen."
All it took to silence impatience was a comeback victory over a solid Stanford team last Saturday.
Reflecting on the critics' finger-pointing, it's reasonable to wonder if the young guns of Washington State have matured enough to return Cougar basketball to the high level enjoyed over the previous two seasons.
Consider some of the facts:
- Scoring defense for WSU in the Pac-10 is in a league of its own, ranking No. 1 with an average of 51.4.
- WSU is holding opponent field goal percentage to 36.2 percent per game, No. 1 in the Pac-10.
- WSU ranks No. 2 in the conference in blocked shots with 4.7 per game.
- Senior Aron Baynes ranks No. 5 in blocked shots, No. 8 in rebounding, and No. 3 in field goal percentage.
- Freshman DeAngelo Casto ranks No. 4 in blocked shots with 1.3 per game.
Coach Bennett is all about team play, so individuals aren't likely to top any of the rankings.
Where WSU will focus and improve is on offense.
Building on the second half effort against Stanford last weekend, the Cougs will light up faces across Cougar Nation as they likely fill up the basket this coming week against the Oregon schools.
Expect significantly improved and confident play from the young guns of Washington State: Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto, Marcus Capers, Abe Lodwick, and Mike Harthun.
Make no mistake, Bennett Ball will never rely on scoring to be the key to victory. However, this WSU squad is going to improve their ability to put points on the scoreboard consistently over the rest of the season.