The WSU men’s basketball team, ranked No. 6 in the nation, will be in Waco, Texas, tonight to take on Baylor Bears, 8 p.m. central time at the Ferrell Center as part of the inaugural Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. The Cougars, fresh off their Cougar Hispanic College Fund Challenge championship, face their biggest challenge of the season thus far as they put their perfect 6-0 record on the line against the undefeated (5-0) Bears.
The game will be shown on the 30 foot big screen at Beasley Coliseum at 6 p.m. The event is free to attend and the doors open at 5:30 p.m. Concessions will not be available.
ABOUT THE COUGARS: The Cougars carry their highest ranking in school history at No. 6 in the polls and enter their game at Baylor with a perfect 6-0 mark. Derrick Low leads the team with 15.5 points per game, while Aron Baynes’ 5.7 boards per outing are a team-best. Taylor Rochestie leads the team with 5.2 assists per game, while he, Low and Kyle Weaver are each averaging 1.3 steals per contest. WSU needs just one more win to tie its best start since 1991-92 with seven-straight victories. The 1991-92 squad opened the season winning its first 12 contests.
ABOUT THE BEARS: Baylor is off to its best start since opening the 2001-02 season at 5-0, having won its first five games this season. The Bears defeated Centenary, 85-62 in their last outing Nov. 24 in Waco. Prior to that, Baylor took home the Paradise Jam title at the tournament in St. Thomas with wins over mid-major powers Winthrop (62-54) and Wichita State (64-55), and a 68-64 defeat of the Big East’s Notre Dame. Junior guard Curtis Jerrells was named the tournament MVP and is leading the team with 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. He also earned Big 12 Player of the Week accolades Nov. 19, while the team’s second-leading scorer, freshmen LaceDarius Dunn picked up Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors Nov. 26 and is averaging 12.4 points per game. The 6-6 guard is chipping in 5.4 boards per contest. Rounding out the double-digit scorers is senior guard Aaron Bruce with 10.6 points per outing. The Bears are currently receiving votes in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Polls.
LATE MEETINGS OF THE UNBEATENS: The Nov. 30th meeting between the undefeated WSU and Baylor squads is the latest the Cougars have been unbeaten and faced an unbeaten foe since taking on 5-0 Syracuse while carrying a 3-0 record, Dec. 9, 1995. WSU lost the game, 77-75.
RECAPPING LAST WEEK: WSU went 3-0 to take home the team title at the Cougar Hispanic College Fund Challenge Nov. 23-25 at Spokane Arena. The Cougars opened the tournament defeating Montana, 66-55. They followed it up with a 71-26 win over Mississippi Valley State, fcapped off with a 71-62 win over Air Force in the tournament finale. Kyle Weaver was named the MVP, while fellow backcourt members Taylor Rochestie and Derrick Low were named to the all-tournament team. Here are a few notes from the tournament:
• WSU’s 3-0 record marked the sixth time in school history the Cougars have gone undefeated in a regular season tournament.
• Low earned all-tournament honors for the second-straight season (John Thompson Challenge, 2006-07).
• Mississippi Valley State’s 26 points marked the fewest by the Cougars since giving up 23 in their 43-23 victory over Idaho, Jan. 23, 1948.
• The 45-point margin of victory for WSU is tied for the sixth-best since 1945.
• Rochestie led the team with 14.0 points per game, while tying his career high with 22 points against Air Force. His previous 22-point performance came while playing at Tulane.
• The duo of Rochestie and Weaver combined for 31 of the team’s 46 assists in the three games and a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
• Several players saw quality minutes against MVSU, as junior Caleb Forrest led WSU in scoring with 13 points and freshmen Stephen Sauls put up 12 points; both were career highs.
THE SERIES: Washington State and Baylor have met just once in the two schools’ histories. WSU came away with the 65-64 victory in the lone meeting, Dec. 30, 1972 at the Far West Classic in Portland, Ore. The Cougars have met all but one current Big 12 members, having yet to face Oklahoma. WSU is 7-12 all-time against the league. Its last game against a Big 12 opponent came Nov. 27, 2004 resulting in a 62-53 loss at Kansas State.
BATTLE OF THE BACKCOURTS: Both Washington State and Baylor boast exceptional backcourts this season. The Cougars’ top three scorers are their starting three guards, Derrick Low, Taylor Rochestie and Kyle Weaver. WSU’s backcourt is responsible for 63 percent of its scoring this season (274 points). The starting trio is responsible for 240 of those points (40 points per game) and is shooting 51 percent from the field, including .500 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Bears rely on a five-guard rotation consisting of senior Aaron Bruce juniors Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat, sophomore Tweety Carter and freshman LaceDarius Dunn. The five combine to average 53.4 points per game (70 percent of the team’s points) and shoot 43 percent on 3-pointers.
LOW EYING 1,000 POINTS: Senior guard Derrick Low is just 112 points shy of reaching 1,000 points for his career. The 6-2 guard has 93 points this season and is averaging 15.5 ppg. If Low can keep up his pace, he’s on schedule to reach 1,000 points in early January (in eight more games).
WSU EARNS BEST ALL-TIME RANKING: Washington State jumped three spots in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Polls, coming in at No. 6 in both rankings. The No. 6 rankings are the highest for the Cougars in school history by the respective polls. WSU’s previous high was No. 9 which was held for two weeks this season and one week last season in the AP Poll. The Cougars have been ranked in the top-10 in all four releases of the polls thus far this season, including their first-ever preseason ranking.
TWO STREAKS END AT THE LINE: Derrick Low had made 24-consecutive free throws dating back to last season, before his miss just under the nine minute mark of the second half against Montana Nov. 23 ended his streak. His streak ranks third all-time in school history and came just seven shy of the school record (31) set by Thomas Kelati in 2004. Earlier this season, Taylor Rochestie ended his streak of 19-consectutive free throws with his free throw miss in the second half of the game at Boise State. The redshirt junior had tied for the seventh-best streak in school history.
SECOND-HALF STRENGTH: Despite trailing twice at halftime, the Cougars have dominated in the second half this season, outscoring their opponents 218-144 in the final 20 minutes of play for a 12-point average scoring margin in the second period. The Cougars have not been outscored in the second half this season.
DISHING IT OUT WITH CARE: WSU leads the Pac-10 in both turnover margin and assists/turnover ratio at +4.33 and 1.53, respectively. The 1.53 assists/turnover ration ranks 11th in the nation. On top of that, Taylor Rochestie leads the league with a 4.43 assist/turnover ration, 1.3 better than the second-best mark in the league. Kyle Weaver ranks seventh in the conference with a 2.17 assist/turnover ratio.
DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: Not surprisingly under Tony Bennett the Cougars find themselves at the top of the Pac-10 in several defensive categories. WSU ranks first in scoring defense (50.2 ppg) and rebounding defense (26.3 rpg) and is second in field goal percentage defense (.378).
GETTING TO THE LINE: The Cougars have been successful at getting to the line and equally successful once they’ve gotten there this season. They lead the league in both free throws made (113) and free throw percentage (77.4 percent). WSU is ranked 14th in the nation in free throws made and 22nd in free throw percentage.
LOW AND WEAVER ON WATCH LISTS: Senior guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver have each been named to both the 2007-08 Naismith Trophy presented by AT&T Preseason Watch List and the Men’s 2007-08 John R. Wooden Award Top-50 Candidate list. Weaver is also a preseason 2008 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award Candidate. On top of that, Weaver has been named to the Basketball Times preseason All-America team and was named a third-team preseason All-American by Fox Sports.
BOEKE’S WSU DEBUT DELAYED: Washington State freshman Fabian Boeke has not been certified for competition by the NCAA, therefore at this time is not permitted to compete in regular season competition. Boeke, a native of Kummerfeld, Germany, played four seasons with the Ehingen Club team in Germany. The club team Boeke played on was a mix of high school players and a few older individuals. Members of that club team, not including Boeke, received stipends that the NCAA determined were above actual and necessary expenses. Therefore, the Ehingen team is deemed a professional organization by the NCAA. Boeke is currently eligible to continue practicing with the team while WSU continues to resolve the issue with the NCAA eligibility center.