Washington State vs Baylor
Both Washington State and Baylor enter their second-ever meeting as programs on the rise, with bright young coaches they must work hard to keep in place.
The undefeated Cougars are ranked sixth in the nation, the highest ranking in school history. Tony Bennett’s team is led by the duo of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Low, a senior guard from Hawaii, leads the Cougars by averaging 15.5 points/game. His steady hand keeps the Cougars focused on both ends of the floor. Weaver, a 6-6 senior from Wisconsin, is second on the team in both scoring a rebounding and provides a versatile floor game. Taylor Rochestie has upped his game this season, third on the Cougars in scoring and leading the team in assists. His play has allowed Low and Weaver to further flourish in the Washington State offense.
A bigger story for the Cougars than individual players is the total effort of this team. This is probably best illustrated by the vice-grip defense Coach Bennett’s squad implores on its opponents. Washington State has held the opposition to just 50 points/game thus far this season. Balanced and smart offensively, it is the effort on the defensive end of the floor that makes the Cougars a team to be reckoned with, not only in the Pac-10, but nationally.
The Baylor Bears also enter the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series undefeated. At 5-0, Scott Drew has a team poised to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth this season. The Bears recently won the Paradise Jam title, defeating Wichita St, Notre Dame, and Winthrop along the way. Baylor returns all five starters from last year’s team, including pre-season All-Big 12 selection Curtis Jerrells. Jerrells leads the Bears in points, rebounds, and assists per game.
However, no one on the Bears averages more than thirty minutes played per contest, as Coach Drew has done an excellent job keeping fresh bodies in and allowing his players to gain further experience playing together. The key for Baylor this season will be learning how to perform in crunch time. The Bears were very competitive, especially in Big 12 conference play, last season. However, as a young team, they had not yet learned how to win.
A victory over a top-10 opponent like Washington State would do wonders for this team’s confidence, not to mention their NCAA Tournament resume come March.
Big Picture: Washington State figures to make the NCAA Tournament pretty easily. However, this is the type of game that the Cougars and its fans can learn a great deal about their chances to make a deep tournament run. Playing on the road against another high major team is the type of environment where championship teams must learn to thrive. And, if not thrive, then at least survive.
Baylor has much to prove to itself and the country in this matchup. A win would be huge on the non-conference resume, adding to that Paradise Jam title. Games at South Carolina and versus Arkansas still await the Bears; imagine the confidence this team would have entering Big 12 play if it can win some or all of those matchups.
To beat Wazzu, Baylor must minimize its mistakes with the basketball. As a team, the Bears average nearly sixteen turnovers per game; Washington State averages but nine.
In what should be a low-possession ballgame, the Bears must maximize its opportunities and convert good looks versus the disciplined Cougars. Ultimately, Washington State has more experience in this type of atmosphere and should be able to impose its will on the Bears in a very competitive matchup, coming out with a hard-fought victory to take back to Pullman.