PULLMAN – Before Friday night’s non-conference basketball game at Friel Court, Sacramento State’s first-year coach Brian Katz made a pilgrimage.
He walked behind the Washington State bench and sat down near Dick Bennett, in town to watch his son Tony’s team play a couple of games.
The coaches talked about the elder Bennett’s signature pack defense, then Katz, who calls himself a Bennett disciple, went back to his bench.
He spent the next two hours watching WSU overcome his pack by raining 3-pointers over it.
The Cougars hit 15 of 29 long-range attempts en route to a 76-55 win over the Big Sky Conference Hornets before 8,504.
“We moved the ball well and got nice rhythm shots, and guys shot lights out, but you can’t always count on that,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s why you better be rock solid defensively.”
The Cougars (3-0) weren’t, especially in the first half.
“We lapsed on our defense tonight,” center Aron Baynes said of the Hornets shooting 47 percent from the floor. “Every game there are good things that happen, but we can learn from every game. That’s what we have to learn from this game: We have to come out with more of a defensive mindset.”
Jumping ahead 7-0, the Cougars looked ready to imitate their first two easy wins. But Sacramento State, 0-3 and on an 11-game losing streak dating back to last season, crashed the boards – it had a 17-10 rebound margin at half – and took a 13-12 lead with 12:33 left before halftime.
It was the first time WSU had trailed this season.
But when Klay Thompson hit the third of his five 3-pointers with 9 minutes left, the Cougars led 18-16 and never trailed again.
Thompson (a career-high 17 points) and Daven Harmeling (13 points) fired away from outside, but it was point guard Taylor Rochestie who got them their shots through penetration.
“I like the way we got some probing drives and kicks,” Bennett said. “We started driving and they really had to converge on the ball. … “At times (in practice) we were passing up shots, especially Taylor. I challenged him and I thought he responded.”
To the tune of 17 points – 6 of 10 from the floor, 5 of 6 beyond the newly extended (20-foot, 9-inches) arc – and 10 assists against a lone turnover.
“They really jammed the lane and packed it, that’s what they chose to do,” Bennett said. “Probably more so than we will see all year.”
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