You think Tony Bennett was satisfied with one Pac-10 win? Well, you weren't at practice Tuesday. The WSU coach pushed his team hard, as hard as I've seen this season, demanding attention and focus on the defensive end as the Cougars prepare to play Oregon State and their back-cut-oriented offense. As we get ready to head to Oregon ourselves, we have a story for tomorrow's S-R on Taylor Rochestie's emergence as the Cougs' team leader through words and deeds. Read on for the unedited version along with some web-only notes and quotes.
• Here's the unedited version of the story that will appear in tomorrow's paper …
PULLMAN – There were 5 ticks left on the clock. The lead was a single point. The teams were coming out of their respective time-out huddles.
Washington State's DeAngelo Casto paced back and forth at the free throw line, ready to shoot his second attempt. His first, before the time out, had nearly brought down the rim it was so hard, according to coach Tony Bennett.
Beasley Coliseum was a cacophony of sound, the band playing, the students yelling, the buzz building for the Cougars, trying to hold on and win their first Pac-10 game of the season last Saturday night.
As the Stanford Cardinal trudged up the court to take their spots, WSU senior Taylor Rochestie stepped into the lane, clapped his hands twice and began to speak.
The point guard had to shout so Casto, Aron Baynes and Nik Koprivica could hear what he had to say.
"The last 5 seconds are mental," Rochestie yelled to his teammates. "We win the game if we stay focused and stay poised. Have vision and don't let anybody beat you long."
They didn't. Though Casto's second try mirrored the first and though Anthony Goods grabbed the rebound and sprinted up court, the Cougar defense held.
Goods' buzzer-beating 30-footer wasn't close. WSU had escaped with a 55-54 win.
Rochestie had done his part. He led all scorers with 21 points, grabbed six rebounds, handed four assists and, in 39 minutes with the ball in his hands a majority of the time, turned it over just once.
On the defensive end he locked down on Goods, Stanford's leading scorer, holding the senior shooting guard to 15 points – under his average – on 3 of 11 from the floor.
But his biggest contributions might have been with his voice.
"He came into the (last) time out (huddle) and said, 'we're not losing this game, we're not losing with 5 seconds left,' " Bennett recalled. "He was just real adamant.
"Taylor, he knew there was a lot of game left, another possession or two that would be significant."
It's all part of the maturation process of the 23-year-old from Santa Barbara, Calif., who came to WSU after a year at Tulane University. A process he embraces.
"As a point guard you take on a leadership role whether you are a freshman or a senior," Rochestie said this week as he prepared to lead the Cougars on their first conference road trip, to Oregon State (Thursday) and Oregon (Saturday). "As the same time, I think I've been more of a leader, just vocally, on and off the court this year.
"It's important, having been there and having a lot of young guys, to try to take that role."
The Cougars (9-6, 1-2 in Pac-10 play) have increasingly turned to freshmen for extended minutes, with Casto making two big plays against Stanford, Klay Thompson leading the team in scoring much of the year, Abe Lodwick nailing a big 3-pointer vs. the Cardinal and Marcus Capers backing up at the point. Leading has become as crucial as scoring for Rochestie.
Not that he was doing much of the latter early on.
A shooting slump – he was 26 of 88 (29.5 percent) from the floor in the eight games prior to Pac-10 play – aggravated by some untimely turnovers forced Rochestie to deal with a crisis of confidence. How he did only cemented his status as a leader.
He talked about his problems. He worked harder at practice. He took Bennett's criticisms to heart and tried to correct the mistakes.
"He's just tough," said Capers, who feels Rochestie is helping him more on the mental side than he is anywhere else. "He doesn't back down to anybody. He's really tough, I like that about him."
"When you're going through adversity, and you keep the right mental attitude, the right mindset, and push through it and play as hard as you can, whether you are making or missing shots, that says something about you," Rochestie said.
"He's playing better and better as the games have worn on," Bennett said. "He struggled to make some shots (early) and now he's made some big ones. He played well on both ends of the court against Stanford."
But, as is his wont, Bennett pointed out Rochestie's defense.
"I like the job he did on (Cal leading scorer Jerome) Randle (who was 0 for 5 on 3-pointers and finished with eight points, less than half his average) and the job he did on Goods," he said. "I thought that went unnoticed. That was significant. To take two big time scorers in our league and really make them work to get their points.
"And then to have the mental and physical stamina to produce on the other end of the floor. That's a lot required. But, you know, a fifth-year senior, that's the way it is with him."
And here are some web-only quotes from Rochestie and Bennett from Tuesday ...
• Rochestie on …
His shooting slump and how it helped him: "Now I can relate if someone has a bad shooting day or a couple bad shooting days, I've been through that even this season. All in all, just to be able to relate to your guys is huge. You just have to stay in the right mindset."
On the change in the offense, giving him the ball more: "It has been huge for me to have the ball in my hands. It has made me step up offensively. But at the same time that's not just as a scorer. It's about making the right decision, making the right play and that's in the same realm of doing whatever I can to help us win the game. Whether that's to pass the ball, whether that's to shoot the ball, but just having it in my hand does change the mentality of having to make plays coming down to the end of the game."
What playing well defensively means on the other end: "Being part of Tony's system ... you know when you're shot's not going down your defense can hold you in it. I think that helps (explain) why I've been shooting the ball better. Knowing that I've been contributing, doing well on the offensive end, it has given me confidence to come down and be aggressive and try to score on the offensive end."
On Randle's struggles against UW on Saturday: "When I watched Cal play at Washington I was saying to myself, 'you're welcome Washington.' It probably wasn't me, but mentally, for him, it was probably a (hard) step to have to take to shoot well."
• Bennett on …
How important the win over Stanford was: "When you're walking a fine line, just a bit of confidence and a positive result, is significant. That locker room, they were pretty happy."
"We finished better than we have in any of the games. Taylor really did a great job of making some plays."
On Rochestie asserting himself as a leader: "Kyle and Derrick were pretty quiet, and Robbie in that regard. More so this year. He did some last year, but more so this year. He has to. He has to do more and say more.
"He's a natural leader that way."
On the plays the freshmen made against Stanford: "You could see how excited (Casto) was. That's part of the excitement of youth. It's the fun of college basketball. Guys have to enjoy themselves. You saw the smile on Klay's face, when there haven't been a lot of those, because they hung in their.
• As a final note tonight, here's a quote from Oregon State coach Craig Robinson about playing the Cougars. It's taken from the video of his press conference. You can find the video here.
"We've got three things to accomplish," Robinson said. "We've got to keep Baynes from getting the ball inside and Rochestie from killing us from the outside and now they've got Klay Thompson who has made his shots for a freshman. So if we can keep those guys from killing us, we'll have a shot at winning this game. I'm excited for it."
Oh, and one other thing. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson has been invited to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala. You can find out more at the Senior Bowl website.
• That's it for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow with some links. Till then ...