PLAYING A COMPLETE game, something that has eluded the Washington State men's basketball team in matches against perennial powers this season, will be important if the Cougars (8-4) are going to extend their seven-game winning streak against Washington when the cross-state rivals meet Saturday in Pullman. That was the message delivered by WSU coach Tony Bennett today.
Indeed, Bennett said there was no great mystery with what past Cougar teams did to achieve their winning streak against the Huskies -- and what this season's group needs to do to keep it going.
"We've played solid. We've controlled tempo. We've made good decisions down the stretch -- taking care of the ball," Bennett said of the ingredients that went into achieving the wins over Washington the past three seasons. "To have a chance to be successful we're going to have to do that again."
But in losses to LSU, Gonzaga, Baylor and Pittsburgh this season the Cougars were unable to play solid, control tempo, make good decisions and take care of the ball for an entire game.
In short, a case could be made that the Cougars did more to lose those games than opponents did in winning them.
"If you're going to be beat, make a team beat you -- but let's do everything in our power to not lose to an opponent," Bennett said. "I liked what I saw against LSU in the second half up to a certain point. And give them credit, they (Tigers) made some really tough shots. But I also thought we lost that game with some decision making and turnovers."
In Baton Rouge, WSU led LSU, 47-40, with 9 minutes 14 seconds to play. But with help from the Cougars the Tigers rallied. They scored the final 11 points of the game in taking a 64-52 decision.
Against Gonzaga in Pullman, the Cougars trailed at halftime, 32-29, but the Zags erupted for 15 unanswered points early in the second half and went on to a 74-52 victory.
A similar "silent" period resulted in a 58-52 home-court loss to Baylor. With 10:47 to play, the score was tied at 41. But the Cougars scored only one field goal in the next seven minutes, allowing the Bears to take control.
An 11-0, second-half run by Pittsburgh on a neutral court at Newark, N.J., broke open a close game and propelled the Panthers past the Cougars, 57-43.
"We've seen the deal," Bennett said. "Now we have to find ways to become a little better for the majority of the game. You can't get away with just a half of basketball or two thirds of a game. You're going to have to play not perfect but solid for the entirety of the game in most Pac-10 games this season."
Saturday's game against Washington (3 p.m., FSN-TV) will be the Pac-10 opener for both teams.
And for three of the four Cougar seniors - Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest and Taylor Rochestie -- it will be a chance for them to continue their remarkable streaks of never having experienced a loss to the Huskies.
Baynes and Forrest, who were freshmen when the Cougars' winning streak against UW started in 2006, are 7-0 vs. Huskies. Rochestie, who played as a freshman at Tulane, played against Washington the past two seasons and is 5-0. The other senior, Daven Harmeling, was a freshman in 2005 when the Cougars lost twice to the Huskies. An injury resulted in him redshirting in 2006, when the winning streak started, but he played the past two seasons and is 5-2 vs. UW.
Bennett said the seniors are "wonderful young men (with) great character." But, he said he would like to see them become more assertive.
"In terms of off-the-court leadership you couldn't ask for better guys," Bennett said. "On the court in practice, they are very solid. But for us to be successful with our small margin of error, they need to be hitting full stride pretty quick."