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Welcome back, Taylor


Nearly two weeks ago, on the eve of the Pac-10 season, I devoted more than 1,400 words to the play of our senior point guard. It wasn't a complimentary piece.

But after taking Taylor Rochestie to task for the team's struggles to score points, nobody is happier than me that he seems to finally be finding his place within the offense.

Yes, Rochestie averaged 20 points against the Bay Area schools, but as you can probably guess, I'm not a real big proponent of just looking at points scored and proclaiming a performance as a success or failure. Instead, I looked at his offensive rating in the two games compared to the games against other "like" competition.

In short, Rochestie comes out golden. In a stat where 100 is about average, Rochestie averaged a robust 116.4. Contrast that with an average of 70.75 in the first six games, as our supposed offensive leader was very nearly 30 percent worse than an average offensive player.

What I love about the offensive rating stat is that it factors in all of the ways a player contributes to his team scoring points. Because of that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Rochestie -- not Derrick Low or Kyle Weaver -- led the Cougs in offensive rating in 2007-08 at 119.9, 90th best nationally.

I don't think it was an accident that this weekend is when that figure started approaching last year's levels, because those two games were vintage Rochestie.

After the UW game, I started to come around to the idea that the struggles of the offense had a lot less to do with Rochestie and a lot more to do with his teammates. Yes, Rochestie had been making some questionable decisions with the basketball, but the more I watched, the more I saw a guy who really wasn't getting a lot of help. Perhaps his efforts were misguided, but man -- did you see how much standing around the Cougs' upperclassmen did on offense as the Huskies ran them out of the gym? It was painful to watch Rochestie try to make something happen.

While I can't speak to what happened on Thursday, since the game wasn't on TV (thanks, Pac-10!) it sounds like Saturday was more or less an extension of strides made against Cal. Rochestie was under control the whole game against the Cardinal, orchestrating the offense beautifully, especially in the second half. Even though he shot just 6-of-15 and his passes weren't always perfect, it was the way he went about it. He poked and prodded at the defense, taking shots only when it made sense and content to find an open man.

I think there are some legitimate reasons why this came to fruition this weekend.

First, Tony Bennett finally mixed up his personnel groupings to give Taylor some energy guys playing next to him. Much of it was necessitated by foul trouble by Nik Koprivica and Caleb Forrest, but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Even as the Cougars were bricking shot after shot in the first half, it still felt like we were close to breaking through, and the dam finally broke in the second half. For the first time I remember since the game against Pitt, Rochestie really looked like a guy who trusted his teammates. And when the team got the green light to run ... well, that fits Rochestie's game to a T.

Jo-Jo will be exploring this further in a post in the morning, but I'm more convinced than ever that a mixture of youth and experience in the lineup -- especially considering the particular skill sets of all the players involved -- will continue to bring out the very best in Rochestie.

Second, Tony ran some halfcourt sets specifically designed to play to Taylor's offensive strengths. The most obvious one to me, which the Cougs ran over and over again in the second half because Stanford simply had no answer for it, was the high screen and roll. I mentioned it in my post last night, but it bears repeating -- and watching -- because it opened up so many things on the offensive end.

Clearly, teams are selling out to stop Aron Baynes. Because the Cardinal sagged so much on his rolls -- which he now has the ability to perform at 250 pounds -- Rochestie was free to either step back for a jumper or penetrate against out of position defenders, either finishing at the rim or dishing off to a teammate whose defender had rotated. It was beautiful basketball, and it will be interesting to see how teams defend it from here on out. If they jump the screens on Rochestie, that should leave Baynes one-on-one in the post against an undersized defender and also leave someone else open on the wing.

Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, Bennett took the ball out of Rochestie's hands at times, running sets designed to get him the ball in position to receive a pass where he can score. This is something Jo-Jo's been calling for most of the year, and it definitely worked on Saturday. Rochestie's not the pure scorer that Derrick Low eventually became -- remember, he was a point guard, too, when he came to Pullman -- but mixing up the attack added another dimension to an offense that had become embarrassingly predictable by the UW game.

The bottom line is that, as we knew all along, we need an effective -- and efficient -- Taylor Rochestie on offense for this team to be able to compete with the big boys. We just didn't know how much we needed him.

Welcome back, Taylor. I think you returned just in time.