FRESNO. Calif. – Washington State men’s basketball coach Ken Bone doesn’t like the term, but he knows it’s been bantered around about his Cougars team.
The Big Three.
It refers to Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto, the three WSU award winners from last season.
Friday night in a quarter-full Save Mart Center on the Fresno State campus, with Moore (wrist) and Casto (sprained foot) watching in sweats, the term had other meanings.
No, not the final score. That turned out to be WSU 66-55, as the Cougars rallied from a seven-point second-half deficit – the first this season – to raise their nonconference record to 4-0 and drop the Western Athletic Conference Bulldogs’ mark to 1-3.
But it could refer to the triumvirate of Thompson, Faisal Aden and Casto’s replacement in the starting lineup, Brock Motum, who combined for all but five of WSU’s points.
“Going into the season, people talked about the Big Three,” Bone said. “I don’t like it, but the label was put on our team. And to have two of the three out, and to have other guys step up and get the job done, just gives our team more confidence that we’re a little deeper than maybe some people believe.”
The term could just as easily refer to Aden’s 22-footer from the left corner with 10 minutes, 20 seconds left. The 3-pointer lifted WSU into a 47-44 lead that it would never give up.
Aden started slowly as Thompson, who finished with 22 points despite foul trouble, carried WSU to a 24-16 edge 13 minutes in. But after FSU took a one-point halftime lead and extended it early in the second half, the junior college transfer exploded, hitting 7 of 12 second-half shots and scoring 18 of his career-high 28 points.
“I always feel like the next one is going in,” Aden said of his slow start. “You have to have confidence as a shooter.”
With WSU trailing 44-37 with 15 minutes left and the announced crowd of 7,158 – there were no more than 3,000 in the arena – making a little noise, the 6-foot-3 scorer took over.
Over the next 9-plus minutes, with Thompson on the bench for part of it with four fouls, Aden scored eight points, assisted on two more and carried the Cougars on 14-0 run. Many of the buckets came on shots outside the flow of the offense, occasionally drawing gasps from the crowd – and WSU’s coaches.
“Some guys can just do that,” Bone said. “As the games go on, if he can continue to do that at a high rate, we’re going to live with it.
“But, it’s not what I’m used to, but that young man knows how to get his shot off and he’s pretty accurate.”
You could also apply the term to Motum’s 22-foot jumper from nearly the same spot as Aden’s 8 minutes later. It gave the Cougars an eight-point lead with 1:20 left and sealed the deal.
“It was there,” Motum said succinctly of his first 3-point attempt of the night, giving him 11 points to go with his seven rebounds.
Motum learned he was going to start after Casto hurt his foot – Casto is expected back for Tuesday’s home game with Sacramento State – at Wednesday’s practice.
That meant the 6-10 Motum was matched up – when WSU wasn’t playing zone – with Fresno State leading scorer Greg Smith, a 6-10 center who scored eight of FSU’s first 11 points but finished with nine and 10 rebounds, helping the Bulldogs to a 41-34 edge.
“He’s a big dude,” said Motum, who was 5 of 6 from the field as WSU shot 46.4 percent. “I just want to do my best to guard him and let the rest of the game come, because he was going to be a big factor of their offense.”
He wasn’t that big because the term could also refer to any of Fresno’s 26 missed 3-pointers (in 33 attempts, 21.2 percent, 4 points higher than FSU’s season average), many of which seemed to take chunks out of the rim.
The long caroms against WSU’s zone – the Cougars played a 2-3 about 75 percent of the game – helped the Bulldogs grab 15 offensive rebounds, leading to a 13-7 edge in second-chance points.
“Those rims were tight and when it hit the iron, it came shooting off,” Bone said. “It wasn’t just the fact we didn’t screen off, they were quicker than us. There were a few times they were just quicker to the ball.”
But not quick enough.
“The first time on the road, without two of our main weapons, we had to come together and really fight,” Aden said. “That’s what we did.”