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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU shoots for 4-2 against Ducks

PULLMAN – Washington State University is 3-2 in Pacific-10 Conference play, something that doesn’t necessarily sound that impressive – until discovering that it’s the school’s best start since going 5-2 in 1994-95.

It’s taken Dick Bennett and the Cougars a few months this season, but WSU seems to have found a comfort zone of sorts. In the first 10 games of the season, Bennett used nine different starting lineups. But now, he’s settled with a group of three freshmen and two seniors.

Since going with Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, Robbie Cowgill, Thomas Kelati and Jeff Varem, the Cougars are 2-1 and held a double-digit lead in the lone loss. At 2 p.m. today, that same group will have a chance on Friel Court to push that mark to 3-1 against a 10-3 Oregon team that just lost its second conference game to Washington on Thursday.

WSU has shot impressively of late – better than 47 percent from the floor in each of the last three games.

“For us, the shooting percentage is linked to the quality of our shots, not whether guys are hot or cold,” Bennett said. “That is very obvious. When we work the ball and take good shots, we’ll shoot a good percentage. In those games where we’ve shot an inordinate number of 3s, we’ve struggled.”

The Ducks stand a good chance at stifling the improving Cougars offense. The Ducks have played a fair amount of zone, something no other conference rival has done against WSU. They also have two players who are 6-foot-10 or taller in the starting lineup, as well as plenty of size on the bench.

“We haven’t played against a whole lot of zone,” said WSU freshman center Cowgill, whose thin frame provides what little height the Cougars have. “We worked on it (Friday) during practice and we have seen it before. We need to get some inside things going and open up the outside things.

“We weren’t that aggressive against the zone, especially in non-conference. We just worked around it, passed around the perimeter.”

Bennett is concerned that Oregon’s big men could take advantage of WSU in rebounding.

“They’re big. Their size is a factor,” Bennett said. “The games we’ve really struggled in are where teams have come after us on the glass.”

Against Oregon State on Thursday, the Cougars showed that they can handle big players on the defensive end. All-Pac-10 Beavers power forward David Lucas scored just 12 points against WSU, and that defensive performance has given WSU reason to believe that more success could be in store.

“It gives us confidence. We know that Oregon’s guys are a lot bigger, though,” Cowgill said. “As a team we do a good job of collectively guarding the post and hopefully we can do it again in the Oregon game.”