PRE-CUT CALEB FORREST
PULLMAN -- It turns out that Derrick Low and Daven Harmeling, key actors in Washington State’s binge of three-pointers in the waning moments at UCLA, are sharp with the shears as well as the basketball. Head coach Tony Bennett, however, was withholding judgment Monday on the pair’s new vocation.
Junior forward Caleb Forrest has shed his mop-top for a buzz cut, courtesy of Low and Harmeling (a.k.a The Demon Barbers of Stadium Way). It seems the batteries in the electric clippers of WSU’s Vidal Sassoon-wannabes died before the job was completed, so moustache clippers had be used down the stretch.
“I don’t know if it was worse before or after,” Bennett cracked.
As for the Cougs generally, who returned to the practice court Monday following their first lost of the season, Saturday against the Bruins, Bennett was pleased with the workout, calling it a “solid practice.”
WSU is prepping for its first Pac-10 home games -- Oregon State on Thursday, and Oregon on Sunday. Tickets are available for the 7 p.m. contest with Oregon State, which will not be televised. Sunday’s 5 p.m. game is sold out, but will be shown on FSN.
Bennett was upbeat when discussing the loss to UCLA, which spoiled the Cougars’ 14-0 start and dropped them to No. 8 in the national polls from No. 4 the last two weeks.
“You can really learn from it,” he said. “We went through a setting that was very intense, very hostile, against an excellent team that was revved up to play.
“They took it to us, and it revealed some things that we learned. You’re foolish if you can’t learn from that.”
THE LAST PLACE Beavers (6-10, 0-4 Pac-10) would appear to be a soothing remedy for whatever might ail the Cougars after the UCLA game. The Beavers are flat-out awful at shooting the basketball, but Bennett said the Beavers are not lacking in raw athletic skill.
“They have a lot of athleticism and they’re a wounded animal,” Bennett said.
Speaking of wounded animals: The Cougars have lost 13 straight to Oregon, and 21 of 22. The Ducks (12-4, 3-1) love to run and gun, and they rank 17th in the nation with 82.3 points per game despite the mysterious shooting woes of 3-point gunner Tajuan Porter (29.5 percent from beyond the arc).
“We’ve had some great games with them, but we haven’t been able to beat them, so it’ll be a great challenge,” Bennett said.
The Cougars still lead the nation in defense (52.5) despite yielding a season-high 81 points at UCLA. WSU also remains in the top 10 in the latest NCAA Division I statistics (through Sunday) in turnovers (10.8, tied for fourth), free-throw shooting percentage (76.4, eighth) and field-goal shooting percentage (50.0, ninth).
FRESHMAN GUARD Stephen Sauls attended practice Monday, although he has not been cleared to resume working out.
Sauls remains out indefinitely after being hospitalized last week when he suffered a concussion in practice. His recovery has been complicated by the fact that he’s dealt with migraine headaches for years.
“It was really nice to see him back,” Bennett said. “He’s feeling better.”
BASKETBALL JUNKIES contend it’s never too early to start gazing toward March and the tournament brackets. ESPN, of course, agrees with that sentiment. In the network’s latest “bracketology” run down, Washington State is projected as a No. 2 seed in the East bracket (first round games in Denver). Six Pac-10 teams are forecast for the tourney: WSU, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford. Cal is considered a bubble team.
THE ALL-STAR YAKKERS: Washington State may not have been in championship form at UCLA, but the Cougars contributed to and/or generated some championship quotes over the past week. Our 10 favorites:
1) UCLA coach Ben Howland: “Playing Washington State is like getting a root canal without any painkiller.”
2) Bennett on the Cougars’ furious late run at UCLA: “I told our guys, ‘Nice job on the flurry comeback, but don’t lose the meaning of the message: When it was really game time, we couldn’t hang in there.”
3) Howland on WSU’s seven straight 3-pointers at the end: “That was a stunning barrage, and I blamed it on Reggie Miller (once an outstanding 3-point shooter for UCLA and the NBA’s Indiana Pacers). He came into our locker room after the game, and I said it must be his 3-point mojo that rubbed off on the wrong team in the last two minutes.”
4) Bennett, joking with reporters after learning that UCLA students were setting up tents to sleep outside Pauley Pavilion so they would first in line for good seats: “For Washington State?”
4) WSU forward Robbie Cowgill, commenting on the strong defenses of the Cougars and Bruins: “They play defense with the energy we do, but with better athletes sometimes.”
5) USC guard Daniel Hackett, analyzing the WSU game in The Los Angeles Times the day after losing to the Cougars: “We kind of gave up last night, and I’m one of the first to admit that. No way we should have quit like that. We quit on the coaches, we quit on the rest of the team and the people who came to watch the game.”
6) An unidentified NBA scout, talking to a Los Angeles Times reporter after the Cougars crushed USC and heralded freshman O.J. Mayo: “Mayo is a great. But did you see that other TEAM?”
7) Bennett, crediting his father/predecessor at WSU and Howland for creating a renewed emphasis on defense in the Pac-10: “Those two guys brought a defensive toughness and a half-court system that other coaches have followed …. Pac-10 teams have done better in the NCAA tournament because of that.”
8) Rick Neuheisel, the ex-UCLA football star and Washington coach who was just named UCLA’s coach, addressing the crowd at halftime of the WSU-UCLA game: “I’ve come back with a little less hair, a little more humility, but the same passion and fire to take the Bruins all the way to the top.”
9) WSU guard Derrick Low on massive teammate Aron Baynes: “He’s a very scary person when he gets mad. Baynes is known to have a temper, but we’re teammates, so we love each other.”
10) Low, summing up the loss to UCLA: “We’ve just got to learn from this. It’s not like we’re a terrible team.”