BAYNES, BROCKMAN in 2006
TONY BENNETT is looking forward to the eighth and perhaps final face off between "warriors" Aron Baynes and Jon Brockman on Saturday. But WSU's route to Seattle is why the coach has a spring in his step. A nifty late-season run featuring a big rally in a loss at USC and consecutive victories over UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State, has impressed Bennett because of the diverse way it all was crafted.
“What I like is we were successful in the last three games in different ways,” said Bennett, WSU’s head coach who is in the midst of preparing his team for its regular-season finale Saturday (2:30 p.m., FSN) against No. 16 Washington in what is sure to be a cauldron-like atmosphere in the Huskies’ Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“Our defense had to win it for us against Arizona State,” Bennett said of the 51-49 decision unsecured until Taylor Rochestie’s 3-point shot heard ‘round the Palouse with less than three seconds to play. “Against Arizona (69-53) I thought it was a pretty complete game for us. Playing against a different style we handled the ball well. Against UCLA (82-81) we didn’t defend well but we really scored.
“Those are three different ways we won. I think a team that is good needs to win in different ways. You can’t always win the same.”
The outcomes, along with a strong, second-half performance in a loss at USC that preceded the three straight wins, has led Bennett to conclude that his team has improved.
Six games ago, said Bennett, he was “not worried so much about the wins and losses or post-season play, let’s just get as good as we can and if that qualifies for something so be it. That’s been the focus. So from that standpoint I like that.”
Now comes what might be the toughest test of all for the Cougars, who began the Pac-10 Conference season with a 20-point loss to Washington in Pullman Jan. 4 and now must face the Huskies in Seattle where last week they clinched a tie for the league championship and now can win it outright by beating WSU a second time.
“There’s going to be a lot of juice in that building, as there always is,” Bennett said.
Bennett agreed that the Cougars are a different team from the one that lost to Washington in part because the players, young and old, have blended together; that they know and understand their roles.
“I hope we’re better from that standpoint,” Bennett said. “I think our rotation is a little tighter. I think we understand what we have to do to be in games more than maybe we understood earlier in the year.”
Bennett backed off from evaluating what are sure to be several interesting matchups against the Huskies. But he did elaborate on a potentially decisive battle between WSU’s Aron Baynes, 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds, and UW’s Jon Brockman, 6-7, 255. The two seniors have clashed eight times, beginning when they were freshmen in 2006.
“Watching Aron and Brockman in years past … two warriors banging and going at it. That will take your breath away,” Bennett said. “I’ve always enjoyed watching that.”
Brockman has career averages of 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds against the Cougars; Baynes 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds vs. the Huskies.
“And yes, there are some good matchups in the guard corps,” Bennett said.
“But we have some things we have to do. And that’s going to be the focus this week. You’re going to have to keep them off the glass, handle their extreme pressure and play with a toughness that if it’s not there they’ll find you out awful quick.”
The momentum generated by three straight victories is important, Bennett said.
“But it can be taken away quickly if you’re not ready to go. Our kids have to understand that we’re probably playing against the most athletic team, one through five, in the Pac-10, in their place, in that environment, in this kind of game. It’ll take your breath away if you’re not ready for it. They have overwhelmed people with their quickness and intensity.
“At this time of year it’s about what team can play their style of ball best.”
* The Cougars are No. 37 in this week's AP poll. The win over ASU on Saturday appears to have propelled them into most pundits' projections for the NIT.
* With 37 blocks this season, DeAngelo Casto is not only the top freshman swatter in WSU history but also No. 10 among active Pac-10 players for career blocks. Baynes is No. 4 and Caleb Forrest No. 6.