Coach Tony Bennett is still trying to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of his team. The Cougs have looked good against unranked teams. Saturday night they hosted No. 24 Baylor in Pullman, WA as part of the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Classic.
The ranked Baylor Bears managed 58 points against the stifling WSU defense.
That was enough.
Final score when the buzzer sounded to end the second half: Baylor 58-WSU 52. The Bears improve to 7-1 on the season while WSU fell to 6-2.
The Cougars played great defense the entire game, holding the Baylor sharpshooters to just 40% from the floor. Their troubles were limited to the offensive end of the court.
Baylor Coach Scott Drew had a simple game plan that worked effectively. His plan was to shut down smooth WSU freshman Klay Thompson and make someone else score for the Cougs.
Thompson was shut out in the first half. He finished the game with just four points, well below his season average of nearly 13 points.
Early on this season, that seems to be the way to beat Washington State: shut down Thompson.
Though the final score was a six point margin, WSU had the ball in a one possession game with less than a minute to go. They worked for a good shot in the paint, could not convert and were not able to recover the offensive rebound.
Coach Bennett rotated players throughout the first half. That kept his players fresh and looked to be the right move against the high scoring Baylor offense. The Bears made a nice little run just before intermission that proved to be enough to win the game. They went to the locker room up 29-22.
The closest thing to a surprise in the game was the continuing struggles of senior point guard Taylor Rochestie. Once again he had a miserable night shooting, converting just 3 of 14 attempts from the field, finishing with 11 points and four assists. Baylor did not have to overplay Rochestie to prevent his driving to the hoop. Taylor missed most of the layups he tried.
Aron Baynes and Daven Harmeling led the Cougs in scoring with 14 points each. Harmeling was a sizzling four of five from beyond the arc. Perhaps he'll become more of the offensive focus for Coach Bennett if opponents continue to concentrate on stopping Klay Thompson.
There was a nice crowd of 9,000+ on hand to root the Cougs on. The energy they generated wasn't enough Saturday night to neutralize a very talented Baylor team that would not be denied. There is good reason why the Bears are picked to finish third in the Big 12, one of the strongest basketball conferences in the country.
Considering how young Coach Bennett's Cougs are this season, they are showing improvement each time they hit the court. That's a reflection of both talent and coaching. The three key freshmen, Thompson, DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, are definitely learning what it takes to play Division I basketball.
Next up for Washington State is rival Gonzaga. Yes, the Bulldogs are another ranked opponent who will come into Pullman Wednesday night playing excellent basketball.
Emotions will be higher than any of the first eight games on the schedule. You should expect a capacity crowd at Friel Court.
Most of all, expect some great college basketball.