This post will serve two purposes. We'll give you our thoughts on the Oregon game and we'll summarize the night's first game, won by Stanford 62-54 with a strong second half. Read on.
• Let's start with the first game. The Oregon State Beavers better-than-expected season can be attributed, in part, to their success against the Cardinal, a veteran team under a rookie head coach. Stanford didn't really start to put it together until the last couple weeks of the Pac-10 season and by then they were pretty locked in to the conference's ninth spot. The Beavers started strong and led 28-21 at the half. But Stanford picked up the pressure defensively, moved the ball quicker on offense, grabbed the lead early in the second half and may have clicked off Oregon State's dim postseason hopes. Anthony Goods led the Cardinal (18-12) with 23 points while sophomore Lathen Wallace paced OSU with 18. OSU's season ends at 13-17.
• Will the third time be charming for Oregon? The way the Cougars handle the Ducks the first two times, you wouldn't think so. WSU hasn't dominated any team more the past two years than it did the Ducks this season. On the defensive end, the Cougars were nearly impenetrable during the first half of both. The Ducks scored a then-season low 17 points in the first game in Eugene, holding Oregon to 25 percent shooting. Then they topped that in Pullman, as the Ducks shot 23 percent and scored just 15 points. In both, Oregon played better on the offensive end in the second half when it had nothing to lose (because the Ducks had already lost). But it's the way UO played in the second 20 minutes that holds a danger for WSU.
See, the Ducks played with abandon, pushing the pace at every opportunity and throwing up shots as quickly as they could. In the last 10 minutes of the first game, they went in with, at times, regularity, forcing the Cougars to hit all 28 of their free throws to hold them off. In the second game the shots rarely drew iron. But from that point on, Oregon has tried to up the tempo from the start against everyone. At times it's worked, and helped it to its only two Pac-10 wins. At other times, the cold-shooting Ducks (they are last in the conference in shooting) have done nothing more than give teams an opportunity to blow them out. There is, however, no way to argue anything but this is a better way for the young Ducks to play. They weren't winning playing conservatively, that's for sure.
The style puts pressure on the opponent to get back, get organized and defend in space. It's something the Cougars are pretty darn good at, especially when they are focused. They'll have to be focused from the tip tonight (as they were in both regular season games), because they don't want to fall behind and give the Ducks any thoughts of winning. So that's the key thing to look for early on. How well WSU is challenging the Duck shooters in transition.
• One thing you're sure to see early is Daven Harmeling in uniform. The senior is going to suit up and see if his ailing shoulder will allow him to go. Though he hasn't played well this season, he's another body who has the potential to up points. ... Another quick note concerning the Cougars. Taylor Rochestie was named the Pac-10's scholar-athlete of the year today. The 6-foot-1 guard not only leads the Cougars in scoring at 13.6 points per game, he not only has posted 30 or more points twice, he also has a 3.37 grade point average in communications and will graduate in May. ... If you remember, Robbie Cowgill won the award last season. ... One last thought. Dick Bennett addressed the Cougars before practice Monday and talked about their effort against the Huskies. He told them that type of effort is what's needed if they want to make a statement this week. And they are capable of doing just that. They have the players, they have the system all they need to do is execute and they can take the next step, putting themselves in the national spotlight and enhancing the reputation of the program.
• That's it for now. We'll be back with a halftime post and another quick one at the end of the game. Until then …