It might have been WSU’s most complete effort of the season. It certainly was the Cougars best defensive effort. And it gave glimpses of the potential of this team. Heck, Ken Bone even sounded a bit like the last coach, talking about valuing each possession, which was a oft-used statement by the previous guy. The Cougars did that tonight, especially on the defensive end, where they used a mixture of man (most of the night) and zone (at key moments) to disrupt UA’s flow. As Bone said, they were locked in almost every possession. Play like that the final seven Pac-10 games and anything is possible. OK, let’s move on to our game story, the unedited version of which is on the link. Read on …
• Here’s the game story …
PULLMAN – Success was slipping away.
Three consecutive defeats, built on offensive misfires and slipshod defensive efforts, had the Washington State University Cougars’ basketball season teetering.
It was time for accountability.
“When you lose three games in a row, it’s kind of that defining moment for a team and they really answered the bell,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller after WSU clamped down defensively and ran his Wildcats out of Beasley Coliseum, 78-60, in front of 8,135.
“They were the more aggressive team,” Miller continued. “They were a bigger team, a more excited team, a stronger team.”
The Cougars were all those things, but more importantly, they were something they haven’t been recently. They were the better defensive team.
Was Saturday’s win WSU’s best defensive effort of the season?
“I think it was,” Cougar coach Ken Bone answered. “We talked quite a bit about defense the past couple days because there have been games recently where we haven’t played up to the standards we like to play.”
The defense started in the first half, when WSU held the Wildcats (12-11 overall, 6-5 in Pac-10 play) to 33.3 percent shooting.
It continued in the second, when the Cougars forced eight UA turnovers and built a six-point edge into a blowout.
And it showed all game on the boards, as WSU grabbed 23 defensive rebounds, only one less than Arizona’s total.
“We wanted to get in the gaps, help on (Nic) Wise, Lamont Jones, Kyle Fogg and those guys,” explained reserve guard Xavier Thames. “I think that disrupted their offense today because we were in the gaps and in help position.”
Wise, the senior guard that is the engine of Arizona’s offense, misfired much of the night, finishing with 10 points, almost six below his average. Only Fogg, with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and freshman post Derrick Williams, 16 points and seven rebounds, had what could have been described as decent offensive games.
And Williams, touted by many as the Pac-10 freshman of the year, was schooled early by 6-foot-8 sophomore DeAngelo Casto, who had his second consecutive outstanding outing against UA – he had 16 points, including the game-winning two in Tucson – with a career-high 19 points, three blocked shots and nine of WSU’s 36 rebounds.
“You don’t want to get shown up,” Casto said of his matchup with Williams. “You always want to be a good defender but you also want to go at him and let him know he’s not the only person on the court who can score.”
Casto put up a team-high 13 shots, making eight. He scored the Cougars first two hoops, which turned out to be their only baskets in the first 6 minutes, 22 seconds. By then Arizona had built a six-point lead and three WSU reserves were on the floor, establishing a pattern that would continue for 40 minutes.
“We were trying to make more of an effort to keep guys accountable for doing the right things,” said Bone, who played 10 in the first half, including freshman center Steven Bjornstad – for only the eight time – and Michael Harthun.
“The concentration level was very high and when it wasn’t, we got them out,” Bone said. “There were a couple times certain kids didn’t know exactly what we were in, so we subbed them out right away. We only did it two or three times, but that might have sent a message.”
All five subs helped WSU rally in some way, from Harthun picking up a charge to end the first half, to James Watson hitting two jumpers in key spots. The Cougar bench outscored UA’s 19-9 two days after the Wildcat reserves had scored 40 in Seattle.
The bench had a key role in raising WSU’s record to 15-8 and 5-6 in the muddled Pac-10.
“I think it definitely was,” Casto said. “It has to feel good as a coach, no matter who you put in, we were clicking, we were playing well.”
The two that played the best were Thames, who has been supplying a spark off the bench recently, and Brock Motum, who hasn’t, but played a career-high 17 minutes, resulting in a career-high 10 points.
That took some of the pressure off Klay Thompson, who responded with his best shooting game in two weeks (5 of 11 en route to 14 points), and Reggie Moore, who failed to hit a 3-pointer but finished with 12 points.
“We just tried to share the ball more tonight and it worked well,” said Thompson, who had four assists but took a season-low three 3-pointers, drawing a little jocular postgame criticism from Bone.
“He needs to shoot more 3s,” Bone said. “He played a decent game but I would always like to see him shooting more 3s.”
But for once, they weren’t needed.
“I thought our guys gave it a great effort both halves, almost every possession,” Bone said, before explaining the recent slippage. “It’s been more we don’t value every possession. That’s not easy. We understand that. But it’s got to be better than it’s been. Especially on the defensive end.”
“The whole team was just molded and jelled together,” Casto said. “As soon as we walked into the gym, we were energized and ready to go. I think that was proven by the guys coming off the bench, like Brock and X contributing the way they did.”
“I think everybody put their 2 cents in and played hard.”
And bought a win.
• That’s it for now. By the way, I put up the “WSU gets past Arizona” headline to see if anyone really reads them. Guess someone did. We’ll back at in the morning. Until then …