PULLMAN – The last time DeAngelo Casto played in Spokane, he was helping Ferris High School 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 a 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.’ ”
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 3-point 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 points 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 its 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 team sport, and as soon as you see somebody is going great, you work to get him open as much as possible,” senior Nik Koprivica said. “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, Kan., for a Saturday night game against Kansas State, part of the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Classic.
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.”
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