SPOKANE, Wash. - Halfway through the Pacific-10 season, Washington State coach Tony Bennett is convinced his Cougars can compete with the best teams.
The Cougars (12-9, 4-5 Pac-10) have only been blown out by rival Washington, and otherwise have suffered narrow losses in their league games.
"You know you can play with anybody in the league, and perhaps beat them," Bennett told his team. "But if you are not sharp you will beat yourself."
One place the Cougars haven't been sharp is at home, where they are 1-4 in league games. They beat Stanford and then lost by two points each to No. 15 UCLA and Southern Cal, by seven points to California and by 20 to No. 22 Washington.
By contrast, they are 3-1 on the road, beating Oregon State, Oregon and No. 24 Arizona State, and losing by 10 at Arizona.
Bennett admits he is frustrated by the woes at home.
"Sometimes kids relax more on the road," he offered. "There are more distractions at home sometimes."
He's not convinced his team is actually playing any better in the road, just winning more games.
The Cougars play at Stanford (13-6, 3-6), and California (16-6, 5-4) this week.
They are currently tied with Oregon State and Arizona for sixth in the Pac-10, all with 4-5 league marks. Cal and Arizona State are one game better. Washington and UCLA sit atop the league with 7-2 records. Southern Cal is 6-3.
While this is a rebuilding year after a pair of 26-win seasons, Bennett is pleased by the recent play of seniors Aron Baynes and Taylor Rochestie.
Rochestie leads the team with an average of 12.6 points and more than four assists per game, making 90 percent of his free throws and playing nearly 36 minutes per game. Six times he has played an entire game without a break.
"Obviously he's in good shape," Bennett said when asked if he worried about the point guard wearing out. "We need him on the floor, that's obvious."
Baynes, the center, averages 12.4 points and 7.5 rebounds, and is making 59 percent of his field goals, good for second in the league. The final scoring threat is freshman Klay Thompson, who averages 12 points, including 40 percent from 3-point range, and made all 20 of his free throws.
Otherwise, the Cougars look for points from Caleb Forrest (6 points per game) and Daven Harmeling (5.4 points). They average only 58 points per game, so its a good thing they lead the nation by allowing only 53 per game.
After this week, the Cougars host the Oregon schools, travel to UCLA and USC, and host the Arizona schools before finishing at Washington.
With the Pac-10 having a down year, Bennett figures seven or eight of the teams are in the same position as WSU, hoping that a little improvement moves them into the upper echelon.
"We have to eliminate mental and unforced errors," Bennett said. "If you take away unforced errors, we have enough to perhaps make a push in the second half.
"We should be encouraged, but realistic, about where we are at."
--Klay Thompson's eight 3-pointers at Arizona State set a WSU freshman single-game record. His 10 field goals tied the freshman record accomplished by Steve Puidokas twice during the 1973-74 season and once by Mark Hendrickson during the 1992-93 campaign.
--Thompson is third among Pac-10 freshmen by scoring 12 points per game, and leads all freshmen with 32.1 minutes played per game.
--Baynes has 904 career points and is seeking to become the 30th player in WSU history to score 1,000 points.
--The Cougars are averaging a solid 7,925 fans in 12 home games.
--The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will honor former WSU coach Dick Bennett and his brother Jack by naming the basketball court "Bennett Court." The ceremony will take place Feb. 7. Dick Bennett is the father of Tony Bennett and started the rebuilding of the WSU program.