Wash. State puts fingers on some gems

The Baltimore Sun

UCLA and Southern California have obvious appeal.

The desert warms Arizona and Arizona State.

Cal and Stanford have the allure of the Bay Area.

Washington is part of the Seattle scene.

Then there's Washington State, the last place in the Pac-10 Conference you would expect to find the nation's No. 22 team.

Its campus is in Pullman, in the southeast corner of the state, where the community shares a regional airport with Moscow, Idaho. The Cougars have one win in the NCAA tournament since World War II and one appearance since 1983, a one-and-done in 1994 that Kelvin Sampson used as his ticket out of town.

First-year coach Tony Bennett said you won't find "a great pro-am league in Pullman," another reason he has one of the nation's most eclectic rosters.

"When it comes to recruiting, we have to think outside the box," Bennett said. "We try to find the hidden gems, the underrated guys. The Pacific Northwest kids weren't very interested, so we've had to take the kids who want to be here."

Bennett knows that quality players can develop at out-of-the-way places. He starred for his father, Dick Bennett, at Wisconsin-Green Bay, set an NCAA record for career three-point percentage and was the 35th pick in the 1992 NBA draft.

He played in New Zealand, and now Washington State has players from Auckland and Australia. The bench also includes a guy from Serbia. Shooting guard Derrick Low, the leading scorer, is from Hawaii, but Bennett also knows his way around the contiguous 48 states.

Bennett assisted his father on Wisconsin's 2000 Final Four team and helped recruit leading national Player of the Year candidate Alondo Tucker from the Chicago suburbs to Madison.

Kyle Weaver, Washington State's top rebounder, is from Wisconsin. Big man Robbie Cowgill is from Texas. Forward Daven Harmeling is from Colorado. Taylor Rochestie grew up in Southern California and was the best prospect at Tulane before Hurricane Katrina led him to leave New Orleans.

The deliberate Cougars are 14-2. In keeping with their bearing, Saturday's overtime win over Arizona was obscured by UCLA's first loss, at Oregon. That great Northwest shakeup left no unbeatens in the Pac-10, the league most likely to send a majority of its teams to the NCAA tournament.

Fans, too

Towson hasn't drawn more than 4,200 at home since a record 5,086 saw the Tigers challenge Michigan in November 1997, but tomorrow brings George Mason in for a Colonial Athletic Association game that will mark the first appearance ever in Baltimore by a team coming off a Final Four season.

Towson's students are on semester break and the Patriots are playing .500 ball, but Mount St. Joseph product Will Thomas leads George Mason and the Tigers, across the road from Johnny Unitas Stadium, are promising the appearance of some old Colts, the Baltimore variety, of course.

Gary Neal and the Tigers will be primed, but the circled items on his schedule also include next Monday's trip to Loyola.

Neal is the No. 5 scorer in the nation, and the Greyhounds' Gerald Brown is No. 10. The two have been good friends since they were AAU teammates with Baltimore Select. If you've seen Towson at home this season, chances are Brown was in attendance, and Neal gets to every Loyola game he can.

GW seeks another bid

George Washington's bid for a third straight NCAA berth could hinge on the gimpy left leg of Cheyenne Moore.

A 6-foot-5 wing, Moore helped Clemson beat Maryland three times in 2004-05 as a freshman, then transferred to GW. He suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia last October and missed the Colonials' first six games, but played a season-high 19 minutes in Saturday's comeback win over Marshall.

"We actually put him on a timer at practice, and he usually doesn't practice the day before a game," Colonials coach Karl Hobbs said.

Moore lists Baltimore as his hometown. He never played high school ball here, but did spend the 2002-03 season at West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County.

Stukes firing it up

Levi Stukes got his stroke back at Florida, one of the few good things that occurred for Georgia in a 16-point loss there.

Stukes, a senior guard out of Randallstown, led the Bulldogs in scoring last season. When Georgia beat Gonzaga last month, it had a 7-1 record, coach Dennis Felton's rebuilding job seemed in full gear and Stukes had a 25-point game that put his three-point shooting percentage at an outrageous .594.

Stukes went 4-for-20 from long range in back-to-earth losses to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Wisconsin, but when he made both of his threes at Florida, it raised his seasonal percentage to .523, eighth best in the nation.


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