COUGARS • UPDATED: 5 P.M.
We’re going rogue here. Instead of writing about tonight’s game, which I know you all are excited as heck about, I’m going to check in with some of your questions, comments and thoughts from the previous few days. If you care, read on.
UPDATE: Cal holds on and tops Stanford, 71-61. Also, Joevan Catron decided not to suit up.
• We’re going to spend a little time here in the comfy confines of Mac Court – my last trip – and go through some questions and comments by you folks the past few days, answering those I can. … We’re going to start with a couple comments after the Oregon State game and, I quote, “Brock Motum air balling a slam dunk!” Honestly, I don’t know where this came from. I watched the entire game and at no time did I see Motum air ball a dunk attempt. There was one play in which he went up for a close-in shot and the ball was touched as he was bringing it up. He lost control of it and it slipped from his grasp, flying all the way to the other side of the rim. It’s a play you’ve seen happen to DeAngelo Casto a few times the last couple years. But, no, from my seat – and I had a good angle on the basket – there was no air balled slam dunk. … There has been some comments and questions about the season and how disappointing – your words, not mine – it’s been. Whether it’s been disappointing or not probably depends on expectations. And I think, after the preseason, many had high expectations. Maybe even after the first round of the Pac-10, which ended with WSU 4-5. But the second half has featured some of the Cougars’ poorest basketball of the year, including the entire UCLA game, halves against Washington, Stanford and Oregon State and the last few minutes of the Cal game. But it’s also featured some of their best basketball, including the Arizona and USC games, the first half at Stanford, the second halves against Washington and Oregon State and all but the last few minutes against Cal. But, overall, it’s been a down few weeks. To be honest, though, I’m not surprised. There isn’t a lot of offensive firepower on this team, not inside, where Casto is improving but still has a ways to go, to outside, where Klay Thompson is really the only pure shooter, though Reggie Moore can be a scorer at times. And we all know how well Thompson has shot this last half of the Pac-10 schedule. If it weren’t for Nik Koprivica stepping up and having a great senior season – his first point tonight will give him as many points this season as he had the first three years combined – the Cougars would be an awful shooting team. … And the defensive effort has been lacking in stretches, with some players still learning how hard it is to play Pac-10 caliber defense. And until they do, it’s tough to win.
But there is hope. People keep complaining I write too often about this team’s youth. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. This is the youngest team in the Pac-10, including Arizona and anyone else you can name. Heck, even Arizona has Nic Wise, a four-year starter, and Jamelle Horne, a junior who has played a lot. Only Oregon, after it lost Joevan Catron – suiting up tonight and might play a minute – with a back injury, is close to being as young. But the Ducks’ senior, Tajuan Porter, is a heavy four-year contributor. And besides, their record is as bad as WSU’s. But let’s look at the future for a second by looking to the past. I’ve mentioned the 2006 last-place Cougars a lot, but let’s look at another sophomore-dominated team that played in the Pac-10 more recently: the 2007-08 Cal Bears. That team finished 17-16 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10, saved from the cellar by the 0-18 Beavers, one of the conference’s worst-ever groups. But back to Cal. The Bears were dominated by sophomores, including Ryan Anderson, possibly the Pac-10’s best player that season and a first-round NBA pick. And, as good as Anderson was, as good as Patrick Christopher was, as good as Jerome Randle – hell, you get the picture. Despite all the talent, they couldn’t win consistently. They made too many sophomore mistakes and cost Ben Braun his job. But look what they’ve become two years later, as seniors. Pac-10 champions. … Now I’m not saying WSU can become Pac-10 champions in two years – who knows how this team will develop and how it will change – but I am saying even talented teams need veteran leaders if they want to be really, really good. OK, teams with guys like Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo and Greg Oden may not need it, but the type of teams WSU and Washington and Oregon State and on and on put together, they do need it. And WSU doesn’t have enough of that type of leadership right now. Thus the up-and-down nature of the season. And heck, I haven’t even mentioned the change in coaching leadership, which is a factor as well. … Does this guarantee success in the future? No. But I’ve been doing this long enough – I covered my first complete college basketball season 30 years ago – that I’ve seen young teams – though none as young as WSU – struggle through the same crap. Often times those teams mature into winning groups.
Someone had a question about who might leave and who might be back. And another comment mentioned Anthony Brown and Ben Loewen. First, Loewen is a walk-on who contributes mightily at practice but will not be counted to help in games in the future. Brown may or may not be back, though he’s not telling me his plans right now. So it’s tough to tell. Some players may have to make a decision based on how important it is to them to play lots of minutes as opposed to being a member of the WSU team. If they decide they want to play, then I’m sure the staff will do everything it can to find them a place to play at a different level. If it’s lower, say Division II, III or NAIA, then they don’t have to sit. … Finally, the Pac-10 tourney. I’m watching Cal handle Stanford in the first half – seen a team do that before, but it didn’t last – which, if it stands, would give WSU a shot of avoiding the Wednesday game. But all it does is give the Cougars a chance. They have to win. Lose and they play Oregon again in Los Angeles on Wednesday night at 8. Win – and a Stanford loss – and they play Arizona State at 8:30 on Thursday night. This, of course, we’ll update later (including the Stanford score).
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back at halftime with our usual post. Until then …