Washington State's Final Tuneup for Pac-10 Play Will Be a Challenge

Lew WrightSenior Writer IDecember 25, 2008

This coming Saturday afternoon, Washington State will wrap up its non-conference schedule against a tough SEC opponent, LSU.

Coach Tony Bennett put together a tough non-conference schedule for the Cougs this season.  They have already played three Top 25 teams. That challenge has proved to be great experience for a very young squad, but also has resulted in the only three losses thus far.  WSU is off to an 8-3 start.

Putting very competitive teams on the schedule has been helpful to Coach Bennett and his staff in sizing up players and their chemistry on the court.  Also, the experience gained by the Cougar young guns playing against top notch competition will accelerate their adjustment to both Division I basketball and the PAC-10.

With just the game with LSU left before opening conference play against Washington on Jan. 3, Coach Bennett inserted senior Caleb Forrest into the lineup in the Cougs' last game against Idaho.  

It was the first start of the season for Forrest, and he responded with 31 minutes of solid basketball. That doesn't mean that he'll be starting against LSU, but his play certainly gives WSU some additional lineup options.

LSU will have no trouble being prepared for Washington State and Bennett Ball.  The Tigers' new head man is coach Trent Johnson, who enjoyed a successful run at Stanford.  It looks like Coach Johnson is bringing success to LSU right away.  

The Tigers are 9-1 on the season, with their only loss coming at the hands of Texas A&M in a game played on a neutral site in Houston.

Though Coach Johnson has players with more experience than the WSU roster, he's going through a similar process during the non-conference schedule.  Coach Johnson and his staff are trying to evaluate the strengths of his players and the way they play as a team. 

And this period of adjustment works both ways.  Players are trying to adjust to the expectations and style of Coach Johnson.

One Tiger who is learning the hard way about Coach Johnson is senior guard Terry Martin. Martin saw his playing time dwindle this month despite scoring a season-high 16 points against Grambling State on Dec. 13.  As his minutes dropped, so did his attitude at practice.  That didn't play well with Coach Johnson.  He's all about team play and chose not to have Martin even dress for the last game.

LSU has the horses to rebound the ball.  They are deep enough to run, run, and run some more.  

Guarding against what the Tigers like to do and being able to dictate the pace of the game will be the challenges for this young WSU squad.  The Cougs know what can happen if they don't play Bennett Ball.  That lesson was dished out by Gonzaga in the second half of their game in Pullman.

Cougar Nation should have little trouble watching this post-holiday game.  It will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 11am PST.  If you don't get ESPN2 at home, there should be plenty of local adult beverage purveyors showing the game on their plasma screens.

Look for a hard fought game in Baton Rouge.  Overall, this matchup is even in talent. Give an edge to LSU in experience but lean towards WSU in terms of style of play.

Should be a close one that will move Washington State to 9-3 on the season.