So let’s see. If Oregon State could have found a way to pull out a victory at home yesterday, every team in the Pac-10 would have been either 3-2, 3-3 or 2-3. That would have been some nice symmetry if nothing else. But the darn Sun Devils ruined it by winning, moving themselves into an insurmountable (just kidding) half-game lead in the standings at 4-2. That 3-2, 3-3 or 2-3 thing? That applies to everyone else. Read on for our look back at Saturday’s games in the conference of does-anyone-want-to-be champions.
• Washington State: I believe I’m starting to figure it out. In a conference in which every team is within a tight range of talent, the team that can play the hardest for the longest time is going to win. In Washington State’s case, Thursday that was Cal, Saturday it was WSU. That’s a marked departure from recent history in the conference, when some teams were just so much more talented than others (see UCLA, circa 2007, 2008), that it didn’t matter if they got outworked, they were still going to kick butt. Parity (a kinder word than mediocrity) has come to the Pac-10. … The Cougars worked harder than Stanford for about 28 of the 40 minutes yesterday and that was enough to earn a win. The other 12, coming early in the second half and down the stretch? The Cardinal got every loose ball, pounded the boards, shut down the WSU offense and almost came through with a miracle rally. … If this young group of Cougars can learn how to compete with passion for 40 minutes, they will be as good as anyone. I don’t think that was a statement I could have made 10 games ago. But that’s how much they’ve improved under first year head coach Ken Bone. Their biggest weakness early, a lack of depth which forced an over-reliance on three guys to do all the scoring, has been ameliorated with the emergence of Marcus Capers, Nik Koprivica, Xavier Thames, James Watson and others (Saturday it was Charlie Enquist), any of whom can provide a spark on any given night. … Now on to the links. … We had our game story, a little longer version of which you could find on the blog last night. … Freelancer Howie Stalwick had this gamer in the News Tribune and other papers. … He also had a different story for the Mercury News. … A piece of football news to round out your Sunday. Former WSU strength coach Rob Oviatt has found a new job. He’ll take over at Montana.
• Now on to the postgame thoughts of those who participated …
WSU coach Ken Bone on the second half: “I don’t think we executed very well the second half with foot speed. We didn’t get as many opportunities in transition. When we were in the half-court game it just didn’t seem like we were moving as well to get open, to be able to complete passes, to get good shots.”
Bone on what they learned: “If you’re asking me right now, it’s to play through everything that’s out on the floor that could have an impact on the game, just play through it.”
Bone on the next three games on the road: “We have our work cut out for us, go down to LA, play those schools, then head over to Seattle, play Washington, so three games on the road in a row and we are going to need to play better than we did today. All though there were times today when our guys did an outstanding job. The chance is there to go on the road and do well, like we did at Arizona. We’re just going to have to regroup and play a little bit better ball than we did the last two games.”
Bone on what he wanted from WSU: “The key (today) was to play with energy and toughness, that’s what we talked about from the time we got beat the other night against Cal. We talked about we need to come out today and play Stanford with energy and toughness, no matter what the outcome. Let’s just do those two things, along with those two, good things will happen. … I thought we did that during times throughout the game. But there were a few other times where maybe I had the wrong lineup in, whatever the case was, we were pretty lackadaisical. We need to get to a point where we can play 40 minutes of solid basketball.”
Bone on his worries with Thompson: “I kept Klay in the game a long time tonight. At some point, I just think he’s going to wear down.”
Bone on Stanford: “(Landry Fields) and (Jeremy) Green both showed what great players they are. That was not a big surprise to me, they’re very good.”
Bone on his team: “We are not good enough to feel like certain things are going to come easy. We’ve shown against certain teams that we can do some good things but it’s not like we are in first place in the conference … then I would feel like we’re pretty good. We all understand in our locker room that we are not there yet. We are still going to have some ups-and-downs and continue to face teams that are going to give us huge challenges.”
Marcus Capers on defending Fields: “He’s going to get his shot off over people but I had great help when he got the ball in the post. With guys like that you’ve got to be physical and look for help from my teammates to slow him down.”
Xavier Thames on the bench: “It was really good today. You’ve got me, Charlie (Enquist) and Nik (Koprivica) coming off the bench and bringing great energy. That’s just we try to do every game, bring energy and help the starters out, who may be fatigued.”
Thames on his comfort level: “I’m starting to get in the flow of the college game.”
Enquist on what he tried to bring: “At the beginning of the game, coach emphasized energy and toughness. … When he put me in, that’s what he expected of me. I tried to give that today. … Try to get some offensive rebounds, try to set some screens for Klay, try to get him some open shots. … Ya, block shots too.”
Thompson on fatigue: “I was kind of tired. I was kind of winded at times, felt like I was running around a lot in a stance, but that comes with playing the game. I just have to keep getting in better shape.”
Fields on how much working out with Thompson helped in defending him: “Ya, of course. It’s like, you’re going to be better prepared for a team if you scout them than if you don’t scout them.”
Fields on his second half: “Just more assertive. Played with a different kind of mindset going into the second half.”
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins on the finish: “Down the stretch it was a good game. I thought they made the plays they had to make to win. But I give my kids credit. They fought and tried to make a great comeback. It just wasn’t to be. We didn’t have enough time and they executed at the end to win the game.”
• Around the Pac-10: In defense of my whoever-plays-harder-wins-theory: “They played harder than we did,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said of the Huskies in their 84-69 rout Saturday. “They are very, very aggressive. When they get some momentum, if you don’t counteract that, it’s like a knockout punch. If you don’t counter that first punch, they’re going to come at you in waves.” According to the Times’ Jerry Brewer, that just the Huskies rediscovering who they are. And, at home, who they are is a better team than the short-handed Bears. … USC was certainly a better team than this year’s model of UCLA, routing the Bruins in a historic manner. Seems like this group of UCLA players is doing a lot of things that haven’t happened in Westwood since before John Wooden arrived. … Oregon State had a chance to be tied for first. The Beavers lost to Arizona State. They are tied for last. The Devils are alone in first place, for what that’s worth right now. … Will Oregon say goodbye to Ernie Kent as the Ducks say goodbye to Mac Court? If the Ducks keep playing as they have recently – three consecutive home court losses – they will. Arizona is, well happy isn’t the right word, relieved might be better, to leave the Northwest with a split.
• That’s it for this morning. We’ll return if news warrants. Other than that, enjoy the NFL playoffs and we’ll see you tomorrow. Until then …