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BILL DWYRE

Taylor Rochestie: The man who left UCLA defenseless

Washington State's senior guard torched the Bruins for 33 points, the most against a Ben Howland-coached team at Pauley since 2003. The story of how Rochestie got to Pullman is equally unlikely.

February 24, 2009|BILL DWYRE

The shock of UCLA's basketball Bruins losing to Washington State on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion overshadowed another shock.

An opposing player scored 33 points against them.

The player's name is Taylor Rochestie, and the accomplishment calls for perspective.

First, this was Washington State. Over the years, that game has been one where you write in a W for the Bruins and check the schedule to see who comes next. UCLA has a 94-14 record against the Cougars, and it is 51-2 when the game is played in Los Angeles.

That's downright inhospitable.

This week, the big deal for those in Pullman still celebrating Saturday's result is that no member of this team's senior class had ever played in a winning game against the Bruins. They had won at least once against every other Pacific 10 Conference team, but never UCLA.

"This time, we just refused to lose," Rochestie says. "That was our mind-set."

So, that's the team perspective. But how about Rochestie's 33 points?

That was the biggest individual production by a player against the Bruins this season, and this is a UCLA team that, although probably not as good as Ben Howland's Final Four groups the last three years, has been nationally ranked throughout and has continued to play the obsessive defense that is the trademark of its coach.

You can score against UCLA, but you have to be willing to go home bruised and battered.

Rochestie's 33 marked the best individual output against UCLA since Chris Hernandez scored 37 on Feb. 20, 2005, at Stanford. At Pauley, you have to go back to Nov. 29, 2003, the start of Howland's first season on the job, when Taylor Coppenrath of Vermont got 38.

Clearly, there is a lesson here for UCLA: Do not allow opposing players named Taylor into your gym.

So exactly who is this Rochestie behemoth who beat up on the Bruins for the most significant individual showing in a conference home game in the Howland era?

Well, he is 6 feet 1 in cowboy boots and weighs about 190 pounds after a steak dinner and with cellphones in his pockets. He learned the game on the mean streets of Santa Barbara, same place as Howland.

He is a point guard who plays somewhat in the mold of his coach, Tony Bennett, who was good enough out of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay to play for three years in the NBA.

"I'm flattered at that comparison," Rochestie says, "but I think Tony would take that as being dissed."

After Rochestie's shooting day -- nine for 16, including five for seven from three-point range, and 10 for 10 from the free-throw line -- Bennett would think nothing of the sort.

Rochestie is Washington State's senior leader in the things he ought to be: scoring average (13.3) and assists (4.8). He also is a 90.4% free-throw shooter, having missed eight times in 83 tries.

He has started all 27 of Washington State's games and has played 975 of a possible 1,080 minutes.

For his presence, Bennett and Washington State fans can thank, at least in part, a former coach named Bob Gottlieb and a hurricane named Katrina.

Gottlieb was hired by Rochestie's dad, Howard, when Taylor, the leading scorer on Santa Barbara High's team, wasn't getting any recruiting looks.

Gottlieb, a former head coach at Jacksonville and Wisconsin Milwaukee, runs a recruiting assistance service and he was instrumental in getting Tulane to take a look at Rochestie in the summer of 2004.

The Green Wave coaches liked what they saw and Rochestie, whose only other options were Humboldt State and Puget Sound, neither Division I schools, signed on and started 25 games as a freshman.

Everything had been going well at Tulane when he returned to school in late August of '05. "The day after I got back," Rochestie says, "the hurricane was coming and we went to Texas. I thought it would be a couple of days or a week."

Katrina hit, Tulane was shut down -- for a year, it would turn out -- and Rochestie and the basketball team practiced and went to classes at Texas A&M. Now Rochestie, with a knee injury that was going to put him out for a while anyway -- and with a school that was uncertain when it might have usable classrooms again -- starting thinking about coming back west.

Eventually, he got his release from Tulane, Gottlieb got back on the phone, and in January 2006 Rochestie transferred to Washington State, where the program had been nicely rebuilt by Dick Bennett, who would hand it to his son Tony before the 2006-07 season.

Now, Rochestie is a savvy veteran who is both a sharpshooter and an assist leader, a player who should get some attention in All-Pac-10 balloting and could even get a look from an NBA team.

At 14-13, and 6-9 in the conference, Rochestie's Cougars won't be getting into the NCAA tournament unless they win the Pac-10 tournament, which carries an automatic NCAA bid.

Rochestie has an approach to all that.

"Our team has the perfect underdog mentality," he says. "I like the feeling when nobody is talking about me. I embrace that."

Ah, well. That stew is out of the pot now.

Thirty-three times.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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