POCATELLO, Idaho (AP)—Washington State coach Tony Bennett has been waiting all season for his team to start games strong on offense and defense.
The No. 7 Cougars finally got it done on both ends of the court Sunday.
Led by Derrick Low’s 16-first half points and a stifling defense, the Cougars (11-0) jumped out to a commanding early lead and coasted the rest of the way in beating Idaho State 75-45.
“We’ve struggled some times to start,” Bennett said. “We haven’t been flying out of the gates too many times this year. But I thought we distanced ourselves early today and it gave us a cushion.”
The performance of Low and Kyle Weaver certainly helped.
Low finished with 20 points, but his accuracy from the perimeter early helped the Cougars twice build 16-point leads in the first half.
After missing his first jumper, Low made his next five 3-pointers, the final one coming at the 5:51 mark to put the Cougars up 28-12.
“It’s always good for a shooter to knock down his first few shots,” said Low, who was 6-of-12 shooting. “Because you get that confidence and you tend to be a little more aggressive. And you also look for your shot a little more.”
Weaver’s turn came in the second half, when he scored seven of the Cougars’ first 13 points to open the half to help put the game out of reach.
Weaver finished with 18 points, and his 3-pointer at the 16:03 mark put the Cougars up 47-23 and the Bengalis (2-8) failed to get much closer the rest of the way.
Washington State shot 48.8 percent for the game, hit 50 percent (8-for-16) from 3-point range and had 11 steals.
Caleb Forrest chipped in 11 points and Taylor Rochestie added nine points and a game-high eight assists. The team played without forward Daven Harmeling, who fractured his right thumb in practice Friday and did not make the trip to Idaho. Harmeling, who averages 6.4 points per game but gives the Cougars a big inside presence, is out indefinitely, team officials said.
The victory brought the Cougars within one game of tying the best season-opening start in school history, a 12-0 run by the 1991-92 team. The Cougars can match that mark when they host North Carolina A&T on Dec. 28, before the Cougars begin conference play with three straight road games.
“It was important for us to play solid,” said Bennett. “We know we’re not the kind of team that is going to blow people away if we’re not playing at a high level. We know we can’t take anyone lightly.”
For Idaho State, the game marked the second tough outing against a ranked Pac 10 team in eight days. The Bengals (2-8) lost by 40 points last weekend at No. 8 UCLA.
Still, hosting a game against a highly ranked team is a bit of a novelty in Pocatello. The last time Idaho State entertained a ranked team was 1982 when the Bengals lost to Idaho.
“I will be glad when we get into Big Sky play,” said Bengals coach Joe O’Brien. “Mentally right now, it is obvious this thing got a way from us. We lost that energy and zip, and if you’re not playing hard, you’re not playing.”
The Bengals got 10 points from Matt Stucki, but struggled to find decent, open shots against a stingy Cougars defense that allows just 51.7 points.
Idaho State shot 38.6 percent and were just 4-of-12 of 3-point attempts.