PULLMAN – Washington State’s appetizers are finished. The plates are stacked, the few remaining crumbs swept away. It’s time for the main course.
The Pac-10 season.
“It’s kind of interesting once the Pac-10 starts, because it’s usually right after the New Year, so you have an actual day you can kind of say, ‘Here we go, we’re starting over.’ It’s the new year, it’s the new season, the Pac-10 season,” point guard Taylor Rochestie said this week.
“(You need to) throw away the bad from the preseason and try to take with us what we’ve learned and step into the new season with confidence,” he added.
The senior has been through the conference wars before. Though a couple of the non-conference losses still stick in his throat, he knows the Cougars must clear their palate because the next course offers more than enough.
It all starts today when WSU (8-4) hosts archrival Washington (9-3) in a regionally televised game.
“I think the league is very capable this year,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “Maybe (it) doesn’t have the powerhouses or some of the marquee players of last year, but it’s a little better than maybe early on some of the people thought.”
The Huskies are one of those teams that have exceeded expectations. They come to Pullman with the added burden of a seven-game losing streak to WSU.
“No question about that,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar when asked if he hears about the losing streak. “I can’t go too many places where people don’t remind you of that.
“Each game presents its own individual challenge and its own drama.”
The Huskies present their toughest test in the past few years, Bennett said.
“(UW’s guard play) presents a challenge,” said Bennett, adding that key turnovers have hurt his Cougars late in games this season. “I don’t know how many times we turned the ball over against them in the past, but that’s what is different this year.
“You (need to) have either some guys who can make some plays off the dribble or just be very sound with the ball late in the game.”
That means Rochestie and freshman Klay Thompson, among others, must handle the pressure put on by UW’s Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon and Venoy Overton (but the Huskies will be without reserve guard Elston Howard, who has a high-ankle sprain). The trio has combined for 42 steals.
“They’re a little more athletic and better off the dribble this year,” Bennett said. “And you have to contend with (Jon) Brockman of course.”
The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Brockman, a returning All-Pac-10 selection, is averaging 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds. The senior, however, has never defeated the Cougars.
“We’ve had some close ones, some great college basketball games, been awesome to play in, and they just come down to the last few possessions,” Brockman said.
Brockman’s battles with WSU’s 6-10, 250-pound Aron Baynes have been a highlight the past couple of years, not only for the fans but for the players.
“It’s fun to go out there every year and get to play against him,” Baynes said. “You know going into it it’s going to be a little bit physical and that’s just something to look forward to.”
As is today’s game.
“We’ve had a good streak against them,” Baynes said. “Things have gone our way in the past. It’s something we want to keep, but we know (it) is going to be tough.
“They want it. They want us bad. We’re a big target for them. We know that going into the game. We really have to be able to play our style of game and we’ll have a good chance.”
School is not in session and WSU doesn’t expect many students to attend, which means more tickets were available to the general public. There were about 1,000 tickets still available as of Friday. … Other than their first game in 2007, when WSU had dropped out of the Top 25 for the week, this is the first time since 2004 that at least one of the teams isn’t ranked coming in. … In the last NCAA statistics, WSU led the nation in scoring defense (49.3 points per game) and in field-goal percentage defense (34 percent). Washington was second in rebound margin (plus-11.4). The Cougars’ last opponent, LSU, led the nation in that statistic, but WSU outrebounded the Tigers 33-28 in the 64-52 loss.
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