COUGARS • UPDATED: 10:20 P.M.
We go from the Apple Cup directly into the heart of the WSU nonconference basketball schedule. From the rivalry with UW to the hardwood rivalry with Gonzaga. We have a WSU basketball notebook on the link (you can also check out the game advance from Jim Meehan on this post) along with some football notes. Read on.
• Before we get to the basketball story, we wanted to share some football news that may or may not make our season analysis story that will run in Thursday’s paper. Paul Wulff participated in a season-ending teleconference Tuesday evening and answered some questions. We’ll start with player news. … Wulff shared the news that sophomore safety Eric Block will be giving up football. Block was stricken with an ulcerative colitis, a disease of the large intestine that seems to get worse when he stresses his body physically. Of course, that’s what football does. Block came to WSU from Bellevue High, where he was a star quarterback and safety. He played a little this year, delivering a big hit against Stanford that not only knocked a Cardinal out of the game, but injured Block as well. He returned, but played sparingly in his last game against USC. (updated, fixing mistake caught by commentor – thanks) … Kevin Freitag, an offensive lineman who was injured the summer after his senior year and has never played, may also give up the game due to a foot injury that is just not getting better. … Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, who has suffered a few concussions the past couple years, will try to return to the field this spring and hopes to play next year, his senior season. … Joe Eppele, who needs just a handful of units to graduate this spring, will do that and enter the Canadian Football League draft. The 6-foot-7 Eppele, who has played limited minutes, is from Vancouver, British Columbia and, as a Canadian, holds special status within the CFL. He’s expected to be drafter relatively high. … Wulff repeated his desire to sign one or two junior college offensive linemen. We’ve talked about that here often, but circle Dec. 16 on the calendar. That’s when JC players can sign letters of intent. … Another key date: Jan. 11, when WSU starts the second semester. Wulff said he expects Brandon Rankin (6-5, 260 pounds), a JC defensive end who had more than 20 sacks at Butte JC, and Quayshawne Buckley, the 6-4, 280-pound defensive tackle from Ontario, Calif., to enroll in school then. Both signed letters of intent last February but couldn’t make it into school due to academic deficiencies. Both have made enough progress, Wulff said, to expect them in January. … Wulff had more to say in the teleconference and another interview we had Tuesday. We’ll cover that in Thursday’s paper.
• Here is the basketball notebook …
PULLMAN – The last time DeAngelo Casto played in Spokane, he was helping Ferris High to the second of back-to-back perfect seasons.
Tonight the Washington State University post player will get to play his first official game in the McCarthey Athletic Center. And he’s aware of what he and the Cougars face.
“I expect it to be crazy,” said Casto, who followed the Zags closely when he was younger. “The fans being crazy, everyone going wild. I expect the game to be up and down. The game should be exciting because of the tempo.
“They will be the toughest opponent we’ve faced so far.”
Casto has emerged as the Cougars’ inside option on offense during the 6-0 start to the season, averaging 12.8 points a game. Defense, his ticket to playing time as a freshman, hasn’t suffered, as the 6-foot-8 sophomore is averaging more than two blocks a game and pulling down 5.7 rebounds.
None of that will come as a surprise to the Zags.
Casto played in McCarthey this summer with and against some of the Bulldogs, becoming friendly with Stephen Gray, who has since visited Pullman.
“Being able to play with them a little bit, they kind of understand my game and I got to understand their game,” Casto said of tonight’s game. “It’s more like playing your backyard competition games, where you guys have played each other a couple times.”
It would have to be a big backyard. When he first talked with coach Ken Bone following Bone’s hire, Casto told the coach that Pullman has grown on him.
“He actually told me the words, ‘This is home,’ ” Bone said. “He loves Pullman. He’s comfortable here. He said, ‘Whenever I leave here, I can’t wait to get back.’ ”
One man show?
Even though he saw it from a pretty good vantage point, Bone isn’t sure how well the Cougars played during their 93-56 championship-game victory in the Great Alaska Shootout.
“I was a little surprised in the (University of San Diego) game and how well we played in the second half,” said Bone of a 20-minute blitz that saw the Cougars outscore USD, 54-24. “I have tried to dissect that second half. Was it we played that well or Klay (Thompson) just shot that well? Both occurred.”
Thompson, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after his 43-point outburst against USD, outscored the Toreros in the second half himself. He had 31 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 7 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“It’s not that he’s a warrior on the floor, but when it comes to shooting, he is,” Bone said. “When we say look to shoot, he really understands that. And it’s a good thing. He’s not being selfish. He’s helping the team.”
Thompson, who leads the nation in scoring at 28.3 per game and has been named Pac-10 player of the week twice, took half the Cougars’ second half shots. But the rest of the team actually shot better, hitting 10 of their 13 shots as WSU shot a blistering 73.1 percent after halftime.
Still, the rest of the Cougars wanted to feed the hot hand.
“This is a a team sport, and as soon as you see somebody’s going great,” said senior Nik Koprivica, “you work to get him open as much as possible. We set some screens for him, get him the ball in the best positions, called some plays for him. He just makes it happen.”
Schedule gets tougher
Besides the game with 17th-ranked Gonzaga this evening, the Cougars also travel to Manhattan, Kansas for a Saturday night game, part of the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series.
Both games are going to be in front of passionate fans that make their home courts a place where it’s tough for the visitors to win.
However, Washington State won the last time it was at GU (51-47 in 2007 behind a defense that held GU to 25.9 percent shooting) and Bone won the last time he was there (77-70 with Portland State last season).
“I’m excited for our guys,” Bone said of the upcoming road games. “I think it’s good. I think it’s exactly what we need. We’ve played some decent teams but it’s time to take a step forward and play some good competition.
“Unfortunately, we’re playing great competition.”
• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …