SEATTLE (AP)—Two years ago when Robbie Cowgill and Washington State came to play a non-conference game in Seattle for the first time, only 5,000 fans showed up.
On Thursday night, more than 12,000 loud and raucous fans came out to see the seventh-ranked Cougars, who easily routed The Citadel 67-45, improving to 10-0 for the first time in 16 years.
Cowgill was hounded afterward for autographs from crimson-clad kids who now idolize the Cougars’ hard-nosed defense and fundamental team play. Even Seattle SuperSonics rookie sensation Kevin Durant sat courtside nodding approval at the Cougars’ defensive effort.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Cowgill said. “Part of this rebuilding process is getting people back to believing in Cougar basketball.”
Consider The Citadel among the believers.
Aron Baynes scored 16 points and Daven Harmeling added 11 off the bench for Washington State. But it was at the defensive end where the Cougars were again impressive, and the Bulldogs became another exhibit.
The Bulldogs (4-6) were undersized and overmatched from the start, starting a lineup entirely of freshman, and were unable to establish any offensive consistency. Washington State held The Citadel scoreless for the first 6:15 of the game and the final 6:58 of the first half. The Bulldogs were fortunate to be within 15 at halftime only because of hitting four 3-pointers in the first half, many of them from beyond the NBA’s 3-point line.
That’s how overwhelming the Cougars’ defense was. The Citadel’s best offense was often a rushed 3-point attempt taken well behind the NBA line on the KeyArena court.
If the first half wasn’t impressive enough, Washington State then held the Bulldogs without a point for 7 minutes of the second half, allowing coach Tony Bennett to empty his bench for the final 10 minutes.
“Every guy is sound and every guy takes pride in containing that ball out front,” Bulldogs’ coach Ed Conroy said. “You just know how they’re going to play. … They can really get to you. It’s a mental game when you play Washington State.”
While a good learning experience for Conroy’s team, the victory was another opportunity for the Cougars to smooth out the rough spots and settle their rotations with Pac-10 play starts in two weeks.
Washington State has just two more non-conference games—at Idaho State and against North Carolina A&T—before opening Pac-10 play back in Seattle on Jan. 5 against rival Washington.
“When you start Pac-10 play, it’s just another animal,” Bennett said. “The goal from today’s game is trying to find our stride, trying to get our rotation as solid as we can, (and) be good offensively and defensively.”
Zach Urbanus and Cameron Wells both scored 14 to lead The Citadel, which shot just 33 percent. Cowgill added nine for the Cougars, who are now 3-0 in their annual game in Seattle.
The Bulldogs’ strategy of tossing up deep 3-pointers anytime they were given the slightest bit of space worked for a while. The Bulldogs scored 13 straight points midway through the first half to pull even at 13-all. Phillip Pandak finally got The Citadel on the board with a 27-foot 3-pointer with 13:45 left in the first half. Quickly, the game was even and Bennett shook his head in the huddle throughout a timeout.
“It was kind of a little wake up,” Cowgill said.
But Washington State closed the first half on a 20-5 run, as the Cougars’ inside size advantage was simply too much for the overmatched Bulldogs. Baynes and Cowgill combined for 20 points and 13 rebounds in the first half.
The Cougars started the second half much the same, outscoring the Bulldogs 19-4 over the first 9 minutes to open a 30-point lead.
“To see the support means a lot,” Bennett said. “I told the guys in the locker room ‘You’ve established something.’ … It’s a great memory, probably one of the best memories I have.”