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WSU faces UW with lot on line


COUGARS

There’s not just a lot, but a heck of a lot riding on Saturday’s game with UW for Washington State – and, for UW as well. Our advance covers all of it. For the unedited version, read on.

••••••••••

• We put up a couple of paragraphs earlier today after finally getting the official word on the tiebreakers. Here’s basically what we posted … The Pac-10 conference’s official word is, in the case of the USC, UA and WSU ending up in three-way tie (all winning Saturday), USC would finish fifth due to its 3-1 record in games between the teams. Then UA and WSU’s tie would be settled under the rules of the two-team tiebreaker. That means, because both would have defeated UW and UCLA once and lost both to Cal, WSU’s two wins over ASU (UA lost twice to the Sun Devils) would break the tie in WSU’s favor and the Cougars would be sixth. THIS IS FROM THE PAC-10 OFFICE as relayed by WSU basketball SID Jessica Schmick. If the Cougars win and either USC or UA lose, the Cougars are sixth in a head-to-head tie with USC, fifth if its UA. Also, if UA and WSU both lose and USC wins, USC is fifth, Arizona sixth and WSU seventh. If UA, USC and WSU were to all lose, UA would finish fifth, Oregon State sixth, USC seventh and WSU eighth. If USC and WSU lose, OSU is sixth, USC seventh and WSU eighth. And, of course, with UA, OSU and Arizona all playing after the WSU-UW game, nothing will be known for sure until about 7:30 tomorrow night. … OK, if that’s clear to everyone - and if it is, congratulations - here’s the unedited version of tomorrow’s story …

SEATTLE – Three weeks ago, the outlook was dim. Today, it’s a lot brighter, but the light still may not illuminate the ultimate goal of Washington State men’s basketball team.

“We always want to play in the postseason,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said recently, “and the NCAA Tournament, that’s always our No. 1 goal.”

But when the road was covered in mist, Bennett decided to emphasis the journey – playing well – and not the hard-to-see destination – the postseason.

Since then, which roughly corresponds to WSU’s trip to Los Angeles, the Cougars have played their best basketball of the season.

In order they have:

• Upset then-No. 14 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, only WSU’s second win ever in that arena;

• Hammered Arizona, then winners of seven of its previous eight games, in Pullman;

• And locked down then-No. 14 Arizona State, winning 51-49 in overtime on Taylor Rochestie’s 28-footer with 2.3 seconds left.

The three-game streak has lifted WSU to 8-9 in Pac-10 play (16-13 overall) and giving the Cougars a vision of finishing as high as fifth in the conference and playing longer into March. Though, according to Rochestie, that’s for later.

“I don’t know,” Rochestie said this week when asked if WSU has done enough to ensure postseason play. “I think we’re rolling the right way and I think we’re playing Washington on Saturday. That’s going to be enough to worry about for the time being.”

A lot of the electricity the Cougars are exuding comes from the momentum of their recent winning streak, a buzz that might be tough to extend.

What with the 16th-ranked Huskies ready to apply a buzz-kill today.

“You have great players playing great,” Rochestie said of UW. “You’ve got (Jon) Brockman, you have Isaiah Thomas, you have (Justin) Dentmon playing the best basketball he’s played, and (Quincy) Pondexter is another guy who can be as good as anybody.”

The Huskies already applied one damper on WSU’s season, breaking open a tight game late and winning 68-48 in the Pac-10 opener in Pullman 10 weeks ago. UW snapped a seven-game losing streak against WSU behind the 19 points of the freshman Thomas, 17 from Dentmon and 16 from Pondexter. Since then UW has clinched at least a tie for the Pac-10 crown, a prize it can lock down for itself with a win today.

“Certainly Washington has improved, you can see that,” Bennett said. “I hope we’ve improved as well. … With the mix of personnel we have, with so many young kids and seniors identifying their roles, I hope we’re better in that standpoint.”

Improved enough to earn an NCAA at-large berth?

Bennett won’t go that far, though he did ask a group of reporters this week what they felt WSU needed to do to get into the NCAAs for a third-consecutive season.

“I’m going against what I said,” he added, smiling. “I decide not to worry about it, you know, I just want us to play well and (be happy with) wherever that puts us.”

Besides, Bennett said, “I’ve never been good at forecasting that type of stuff.”

There is a way to ensure an NCAA berth, of course. Win the Pac-10 tournament. But for the Cougars to do that, they know they would be better off not having to extend their energy over four days, which would be the case if they finish seventh or lower in the regular season.

To avoid that, according to the Pac-10 office, all WSU needs to do is win today. The Cougars would finish no worse than sixth in either a two-way tie at 9-9 with Arizona or USC or a three-way tie if all three finish at .500.

And then they’ll let the chips fall where they will.

“I hope we’re in (the NCAA) conversation, that would be great,” said Bennett.

•••

Another look at the streak

After WSU lost 61-51 at USC two weeks ago, the four seniors – Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling and Taylor Rochestie – got together and talked about the rest of the season.

The Cougars were 13-13 overall, 5-9 in Pac-10 play. Their final season was slipping away. So the seniors decided to emphasis the fun that comes with playing college basketball.

Rochestie says he thought they had been doing that all season, but “It was kind of a collective group thought, saying ‘hey guys, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs this year, we’ve been through a lot of good times in the past, and we just have got to enjoy it.

” ‘We’ve got to go out there and play because, if we don’t enjoy it and kind of let it slip away, it’s going to be over too soon. With the end of the season creeping around the corner, you have to enjoy every moment.’

“Coincidence has it we’ve had some of the best games (since), some of the most memorable games in our history here.”

•••

• That’s it for tonight. We’re flying out early in the morning so getting a post up before we get to Seattle might be tough. We’ll try, but I’m not guaranteeing anything. But we will have something up before the game. Until then …


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