PULLMAN – When DeAngelo Casto went down in a heap late in last Saturday’s 75-71 win over California, the Washington State faithful held their breath.
WSU’s 6-foot-8 center was in the midst of the best weekend of his Cougars career and, even though their team led by four when Casto was helped off the court, holding off a California team that was already pounding the Cougars inside seemed doubtful.
When Casto returned a couple of minutes later after having his ankle retaped, the game was tied. But the junior scored seven of his 14 points down the stretch and WSU earned a much-needed win.
The Willis Reed-like return capped a weekend for Casto that saw him hit 15 of 17 shots, score 36 points and block four shots.
“He’s probably played as good a basketball the last few weeks as I’ve ever seen him play,” WSU coach Ken Bone said this week. “He’s been very productive on the offensive end, he continues to have a great defensive presence and his focus has been extremely good.
“I really like the way he’s been playing.”
In his last seven games, Casto is 44 of 66 from the floor (66.7 percent) and is averaging 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds. That includes the lost night in Eugene when he, like the rest of the Cougars, couldn’t find the basket, hitting just one of his five shots in a 69-43 defeat.
“He’s pretty good,” veteran Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “He’s improved each year. At first you would probably say he’s a little raw, but now he’s a polished player.
“He was a factor, no question.”
While Casto’s offense has come on, WSU leading scorer Klay Thompson has gone the other way. After helping to defeat Arizona State at home in late January with 22 points, Thompson was averaging 22.9 points per game and making 42.8 of his 3-point attempts.
In the six games since, Thompson is averaging 13.3 points and is shooting 29.7 percent from long range (36.7 percent overall). He’s even struggled at the free-throw line, making just 11 of 19 attempts.
“Klay has had a few games lately that weren’t his best,” Bone said, before pointing out WSU has won three of those games, citing the efforts of Casto, Reggie Moore, Faisal Aden and Brock Motum. “I want to believe we are more than just Klay Thompson, even though he is very, very good.”