Senior Taylor Rochestie (AP Dean Hare)
Washington State returned home last week to play the Southern California schools on their home court in Pullman, WA. Coach Tony Bennett's Cougs played extraordinary defense in both games. They held the offense of each opponent to well below their season averages.
Conventional wisdom: Hold the offense of your opponent below their season average and you should win.
Once both games against UCLA and USC were played out, the Cougs found themselves on the losing end of each final score.
If the "experts" are to be believed, the likelihood of WSU improving on offense this season is comparable to the chances of Oregon State basketball improving this year under unheralded first year coach Craig Robinson.
Hold on just a moment there.
The conventional wisdom of most "experts" were wrong about Oregon State. None of them projected the Beavers to have a better record than Arizona this deep into the conference schedule.
Check the record "experts." Oregon State is 3-5 in the Pac-10, while Arizona has slipped to 2-5.
Mentioning the record of Oregon would just be rubbing it in.
When it comes to taking "expert" commentary on the Cougar offense seriously, it makes sense to take a deep breath and step back for a moment.
"Still, one can almost feel a hint of pain on (Coach) Bennett’s behalf when you watch him walk into every Pac-10 gunfight armed with little more than a water pistol."
"You would expect better (offense) from high school girls—and believe me, that analogy is more offensive to the girls than the Cougars."
-Howie Stalwick, Cougfan.com Senior Correspondent
"Washington State inept offensively..."—the staff of Cougfan.com
There was no question that this Washington State basketball team would be a work in progress. With nine freshmen on the team roster, you don't have to be an "expert" to suggest things will look different this season when compared to the Sweet Sixteen team of a year ago.
During post-game interviews following the loss Saturday to USC, coach Bennett appeared to be addressing his team but might have intended a wider audience:
We've just got to be tough minded."—coach Tony Bennett
No question that WSU had a chance to win both games last week. Converting just a couple of open shots that doinked off the back of the rim would have made a difference on the scoreboard when the final buzzer went off.
"It's frustrating when you go 14-51. You're not going to win many games," coach Tony Bennett said.
Frustration. That emotion has rolled over Cougar Nation like a storm coming in from the west.
There remains much hard work for the Cougs to move up in the Pac-10 standings. They still haven't gelled as a team to the point where actions and reactions are instinctive.
How close is WSU getting to becoming a team that can outscore Pac-10 opposition?
Very close. They are about as close as the numerous shots missed last week by a fraction of an inch.
During crunch time against USC Saturday, freshman Klay Thompson caught a pass deep in the corner with the scored knotted at 38-38. Thompson calmly, smoothly took a rhythm dribble left then elevated over his defender to knock down a trey that put the Cougs up 41-38. Klay wasn't thinking about taking his shot. He was playing the game.
The young guns on coach Bennett's team are coming closer to playing, rather than over-thinking, Pac-10 basketball. They are making smart shots that aren't going in. As their confidence builds, so will scoring when on offense.
Confidence remains an issue.
"Those are two teams (UCLA and USC) we had a chance to beat, even though they are superior athletically and talent wise," WSU senior Daven Harmeling said after the loss to USC.
A case can easily be made that there isn't a significant gap in talent or athletic ability between these Cougs and any other team in the Pac-10. That might have been the case the last few seasons, but not any more.
Washington State will continue to improve on offense over the balance of the schedule.
They have the talent.
They have players that are athletic.
Oh. Don't forget, WSU also has a man who was national Coach of the Year just two seasons ago.
There's a very good chance the Cougs will stun the "experts" this week by picking up a win or two on the road when they travel to Arizona.