LOS ANGELES – As Washington State rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to pull within one against USC Thursday night, two freshmen played a surprisingly important role.
Surprising because neither was named Klay Thompson.
With Thompson, the Cougars’ leading scorer, on the bench while suffering through one of his poorest shooting nights of the season (2 of 13), DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers helped WSU string together stops and, in Casto’s case, scored some timely baskets.
Though the Cougars lost 61-51 to drop to 13-13 overall and 5-9 in Pac-10 play, the freshmen’s efforts encouraged coach Tony Bennett.
And not just because they might be able to do the same this afternoon when the Cougars face No. 20 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, a place WSU has won just once.
The efforts are being examined for further down the road.
“That’s why I was encouraged to see DeAngelo have a nice outing and show some promise and some toughness,” Bennett said.
“There is certainly stuff being laid down for the next year and the years to come.”
Though there are four regular-season games and at least one more Pac-10 tournament contest to play, next year isn’t far from anyone’s mind.
Casto, for his part, thinks he’s not only gaining experience for his current role but for the future as well.
“I think that’s the biggest part,” the freshman from Ferris High said of his recent increased play. “You hate to say it, but this is a learning year, your freshman year. You have to contribute as much as you can, but you have to also learn as much as you can at the same time.”
Casto, who is only two blocked shots from Rob Corkrum’s 1991 freshman record of 36, is contributing 3.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots in his 15 minutes a game.
Thanks to Bennett using him inside at the post and power forward, he’s guarded players ranging from USC’s tough inside scorer Taj Gibson to Pac-10 leading scorer James Harden of Arizona State, gaining valuable experience for next season.
As is Capers, who shadowed USC leading scorer Dwight Lewis during the comeback, holding the junior guard scoreless for nearly 10 minutes.