WSU sets sight on seeds

Avoiding Wednesday becomes top priority

PULLMAN – There are only two regular-season games remaining for the Washington State University men’s basketball team, but the ramifications of those two will reverberate next week as well.

Just don’t try to figure out what will happen.

There are too many permutations.

WSU assistant sports information director Jessica Schmick and her assistant Mike Walsh spent three hours Monday running the seeding scenarios for next week’s Pac-10 tournament. The resulting combinations filled two pages.

But there are ways to winnow it down, especially considering what Washington State coach Ken Bone really wants is to avoid the game between the eighth and ninth seeds at the Staples Center Wednesday night.

Win both games this week – starting tonight at Oregon State – and the Cougars won’t play Wednesday. Lose both and they will. Split and it really depends on the rest of the games.

“Everybody wants to stay away from that 8/9 game if you can help it,” Bone said this week. “Because the whole goal is to go to the tournament to win the tournament. It’s hard to win games at the tournament, but it’s easier to win three than it is four.”

And it’s easier to win the higher the seed. WSU can finish anywhere from the fifth seed to the ninth, depending on the outcomes this weekend.

Only two teams are playing the first night this year – four usually meet, with the winners playing the No. 1 and 2 seeds – because USC pulled the plug on its postseason, using self-imposed bans to try to mitigate possible NCAA sanctions related to transgressions during the O.J. Mayo recruitment

But trying to avoid one extra game in Los Angeles isn’t Bone’s ultimate goal.

“What I want to stay away from, is making it feel like there is such a sense of urgency, we’ve got to win these games,” Bone said, putting emphasis on “got.”

“More importantly than that is to play well and stay healthy.”

One player who is playing an oversized role in both those areas recently is center DeAngelo Casto.

Casto, WSU’s biggest inside force at 6-foot-8 and 231 pounds, started the season still dealing with an offseason knee injury that necessitated surgery. But the knee has been fine and his game has improved.

In the first half of the Pac-10 season, Casto averaged 8.2 points. In the first seven games of the second half, he’s averaged 13.2. Despite those efforts, WSU is just 2-5 since the break and has lost seven of its last nine games.

“I feel better playing the game, more comfortable playing the game,” Casto said of his new-found success. “Maybe you could say I’m getting used to the system, you could say I’m finding my way within the system. Whatever it is, it’s working.”

“He wasn’t catching everything a couple a months ago,” Bone said. “(Assistant coach) Ben Johnson has really kind of taken it on himself in working with, not just DeAngelo but all the big guys most every day. … With that, and DeAngelo just concentrating a little more, he’s a good player. … If he catches the ball, he’s even better.”

One thing Casto has caught is an aversion to playing that 8/9 game.

“You don’t want to play that first night, then fatigue is a factor,” he said. “With a young team you don’t want that to be a factor. It’s already been a long road, guys are already tired.”

Where the road will end is still not clear, even this close to the finish.

“An extra game here or there is not what you want,” Casto said. “We’ve got to get a ‘W’ so we don’t have to worry about playing that first night.”

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