Washington State’s defense has been instrumental to its early success, but its offense has proved it can step up when needed.
The seventh-ranked Cougars look to build off their best offensive performance of the season as they play their first game in 11 days Thursday against The Citadel in the AT&T Cougar Hardwood Classic in Seattle.
Washington State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1991-92 team opened with 12 consecutive victories, as its defense has been one of the best in the country.
The Cougars have the second-best scoring defense in the nation at 52.4 points per game, and are holding opponents to just 37.6 percent shooting. In its 72-60 win over Portland State on Dec. 9, though, Washington State didn’t get many defensive stops and allowed the Vikings to grab 11 offensive rebounds.
While their defense struggled, the Cougars made 16-of-22 shots (72.7 percent) in the first half, and finished the game shooting a season-high 65.0 percent (26-of-40). It was Washington State’s best shooting performance since shooting 67.6 percent (25-of-37) in a 74-69 win over Boise State on Nov. 23, 1996.
“When you shoot that kind of percentage, you should not be in that close of a game,” Cougars coach Tony Bennett said. “Our offense bailed us out. We were not stopping them.”
Washington State’s big men of Aron Baynes and Robbie Cowgill once again had solid performances in the victory.
Baynes scored a season-high 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting, including six dunks, and also grabbed nine rebounds against Portland State. The 6-foot-10 junior center is averaging 15.3 points on 18-of-25 shooting (72.0 percent) in his last three games.
The 6-foot-10 Cowgill chipped in 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the Vikings, and is averaging 14.3 points on 19-of-29 shooting (65.5 percent) in his last three.
“Our big guys, Robbie and Aron have really provided a huge spark for us the past three games,” Bennett said.
Bennett, in his second season as coach of Washington State, has led the Cougars to a 20-1 regular-season record against nonconference opponents.
The Bulldogs (4-5) finished last in the Southern Conference last season, and are picked to finish last again this season. They’ve already lost their first two conference games.
Citadel is coming off a 79-55 win over Atlanta Christian on Saturday after leading by as much as 31 early in the second half.
Freshman Cameron Wells, who is averaging a team-high 15.7 points, had career highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have lost 10 straight road games dating back to last season, and have struggled thus far there this season. They are shooting just 38.8 percent in their four road games and getting outscored by an average of 27.7 points.
“Seattle is going to be a great trip for our group,” Citadel coach Ed Conroy told the school’s official Web site. “Washington State is a very good team and we will have to play exceptionally.”
The Bulldogs have not faced a ranked opponent since losing to then-No. 11 Maryland 97-49 on Nov. 27, 2002. They have lost five straight games against Top 25 teams since 1996.
This will be the first meeting between the teams.