TONY BENNETT’S player rotation appears largely set as the Cougs eye the start of Pac-10 play on Jan. 3, but the head coach says he’s “still searching” for answers as to who gets playing time beyond the first seven. Right now, he said, the candidates for the eighth and ninth guys are true freshmen Marcus Capers and Mike Harthun and second-year freshman Abe Lodwick.
Given the allocation of playing time so far, Capers would seem a lock for the eighth spot behind Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Daven Harmeling, Nikola Koprivica, Klay Thompson, Caleb Forrest and DeAngelo Casto.
Capers, a guard from Monteverde, Fla., has seen 135 minutes of floor time this season (13.5 per game) mostly at point guard. Lodwick has 70 minutes of PT and Harthun has 29. Harthun’s total is a bit misleading in that he didn’t play early in the season as Bennett weighed a possible redshirt for him and then he missed games following a violation of team rules.
“I think we’ve established our six or seven guys and then it’s whether we go eight or nine,” Bennett said during his weekly teleconference Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean a guy like (6-9 center) Charlie Engquist doesn’t have a chance. But right now we’re eight or nine and trying to get a consistent rotation.
“Sometimes it has to do with matchups and where your team needs a boost, whether shooting or on the defensive end,” he said.
The bottom line, Bennett added, is this: “There’s competition for some minutes.”
Out of the competition is James Watson, a 6-7 freshman from Atoka, Okla., who is planning to preserve his first season of eligibility by redshirting.
WHEN THE COUGARS face Idaho on Sunday (5:05 p.m.) they will encounter an old friend in Mac Hopson. As a WSU sophomore in 2006-07, he helped establish Bennett ball as a hoop force in the Pac-10 Conference.
But, after averaging 4.2 points and 2.0 assists in 21 games of mostly limited action, the 6-foot-2 guard from Portland transferred to Idaho. He satisfied NCAA transfer rules by sitting out last season and now is a dominant player for the Vandals. He averages of 17.2 points, five rebounds and almost six assists per game. He has made 50.5 percent of his three-point shots (56 of 111).
“He’s a very clever player with the ball,” Bennett said of Hopson. “He’s a good scorer. A nice young man. He’ll be someone who will run the show for them. He can get it going. He can make his teammates better.
“I like Mac’s game. I wish him the best. At times I wish he was here with us.”
Hopson’s dad, Phil, was a standout on Idaho’s Sweet 16 team of the early 80s.
ALTHOUGH FAR FROM being a team leader in any of the traditional statistical categories, Caleb Forrest nevertheless can claim one important position – fan favorite -- on the Washington State men’s basketball team.
“How can you not love Caleb,” Bennett said. “He’s all effort. He’s always going to lay it on the line.”
Forrest, a 6-foot-8 senior from Pagosa Springs, Colo., has been a significant contributor – particularly in the last two games – for the 7-3 Cougars win. His averages of 5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds are career highs. But its his unselfish attitude that has made him a favorite of Bennett.
“He can and will do whatever you ask of him,” Bennett said.
Without asking for anything in return.
“Never once has he come and said, ‘Coach, can I get more time?’”
With Forrest, it’s always “whatever is best for the team,’’ Bennett said. “Those guys are a joy to coach. He’s meant a lot to this program.”
COMING OFF A disappointing performance in the Cougars’ 22-point loss to Gonzaga, Rochestie had a better game in the WSU’s victory over Montana State in Seattle.
“Taylor had a nice game against Montana State,’’ Bennett said. “He let the game come to him.”
Against the Bobcats, the senior point guard made four of seven field-goal attempts in scoring 11 points. He also had five rebounds and six assists. Against Gonzaga he went two for 11 in scoring six points, had three rebounds and no assists.
“He’s just got to keep finding ways to help this ballclub, whether it be defensively, offensively or with his poise and patience,’’ Bennett said. “Taylor kind of sets the tone for us.”
• Rochestie and Thompson lead the Cougars in minutes played, averaging 32.2 and 28.9, respectively.
• Daven Harmeling is hitting 3-pointers at a hot-handed rate of 45.2 percent. He’s connected on 19 of 42 shots beyond the arc this season. Koprivica is second on the team at 35.7 percent (10 of 28).
• After Idaho this Sunday, the Cougs have just one more game – at LSU on Dec. 27 – before opening Pac-10 play in Pullman against Washington on Jan. 3.