COUGARS • UPDATED: 11:20 A.M.
As I walked into the Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils were running through a pretty spirited workout. It was what most coaches call a walk-through, but I didn't want to label it that because ASU was going too hard. The Devils were, however, doing the usual walk-through stuff, going through the WSU scouting reports. We have ours on ASU if you want to read on.
• The second game in a Pacific 10 Conference weekend is always tough, but the road has gotten tougher in recent years as new influences, defensive-oriented influences, entered the realm. ASU's Herb Sendek was one of the early ones (though Dick Bennett was the trailblazer), bringing his matchup zone from North Carolina State to the desert. The Devils have been playing it well this season, holding opponents to 38.9 percent shooting and 54.9 points. So solving the puzzle of the ASU defensive scheme is probably the biggest challenge facing WSU due to the short turnaround. One thing in the Cougars' favor is coach Ken Bone believes in screening often against most zone concepts. If you do that right against a matchup, you can make it play a lot like a switching man-to-man. And WSU has some offensive sets it is comfortable with against just such a defense. ... The Sun Devils' Rihards Kuksiks, a 6-foot-6 senior who has hurt WSU from the perimeter before, is starting to heat it up, though he's been up-and-down. In his last five games, the forward from Latvia has scored 24, 0, 15, 2 and 27 last Friday vs. UW. If the pattern holds, he'll be down today. But ASU runs a lot of screens for him, especially late in the shot clock. My feeling is Abe Lodwick will be given the job to shadow Kuksiks through the screens to start, but Marcus Capers might have the assignment at some time. How the Cougars defend that will be important. ... But not as important as the Devils' high screen for Derek Glasser. Because of the way ASU spreads the court, doubling Glasser off the screen will be tough to execute well. Don't be surprised if WSU is a little more passive against this aspect of the Sun Devils' offense. ... ASU is one of the more aggressive 3-point shooting teams in the country, 29th in 3-pointers taken, with 8.4 per game, in the most recent NCAA statistics. The Sun Devils shoot 38.6 percent beyond the arc, led by Glasser's 44 percent and Kuksiks' 38.3 on a team-high 115 attempts. ... ASU doesn't draw all that well, with the biggest crowd this year in the 13,947-seat Wells Fargo Arena 10,055 against San Diego State. There were 7,682 here for Friday's game, but that means the arena was only a little more than half-full (or a little less than half-empty if you prefer). And there is an NFL playoff game in town today. ... One more stat to leave you with. The Devils have struggled shooting in Pac-10 play, hitting just 36.2 percent (they are shooting 46.2 for the season). Plus, opponents are shooting almost 5 percentage points higher than the season average in the three games. Familiarity usual means teams are better prepared. ... WSU has started the same starting lineup every game this year (Reggie Moore, Klay Thompson, Capers, Lodwick and DeAngelo Casto), except for once, when a disciplinary problem caused a change in Alaska after Capers and Moore were late for a team event. But the way Xavier Thames has asserted himself on both ends of the court recently, it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't force his way into the lineup soon, possibly for Capers, depending on the opponent. UPDATE: The WSU lineup is different today, with Casto and Capers sitting due to the same reason as before. Could be disruptive early. Charlie Enquist (Casto) and Thames (Capers) start instead, though Thames was not introduced due to an error by someone connected to the PA. ... Forgot this note. These teams have lost eight games combined, but those losses have been to some good teams. ASU's preconference defeats came at the hands of Duke (very good), Baylor (good), BYU (very good) and then the two Pac-10 losses. WSU's nonconference losses, of course, were to Gonzaga and Kansas State (both very good).
• That's it for now. We'll be back at halftime and after the game. Have fun watching on FSN or listening to Bud. Until then ...