Though there are still at least five games left this season, we decided to look down the road a little bit today. As the season is winding down, the Cougar freshmen are slowing showing signs of being able to contribute more and more next season and beyond. The consistency isn’t there yet – they are freshmen, after all – but the flashes are. Klay Thompson, of course, has shown his ability most of the season. But DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers have stepped up more often recently, contributing on the defensive end and occasionally on the offensive end as well. For the long version of our advance of tomorrow's UCLA game, read on.
• Here's the story along with some web-only notes ...
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 from the floor), DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers helped WSU string together stops and, in Casto's case, scored some timely baskets.
Though the Cougars ultimately lost, 61-51, to drop to .500 overall (13-13) 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.
No, the performances are being examined for even 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. "It's important. What you do now matters greatly, whether we win the rest of them, don't win them, whatever.
"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 down the road as well.
"I think that's the biggest part," the freshman from Spokane's 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 blocks in his 15 minutes a game. Though that pales in comparison to fellow frosh Thompson (13 points, 4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game), the 6-foot-8 Casto plays less than half the minutes Thompson does.
And, 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. It's those kind of contributions that excite Nik Koprivica, who will be the only senior on the roster next year.
"I see us as a little different team with a new kind of energy," Koprivica said. "We're still going to be a pack-type of team but next year, especially next year, we're going to be playing more (new) guys than even this year."
And that means Koprivica, who will try out for Serbia's World University Games team this spring, will play an important leadership role.
"I'm going to be the only senior. I feel like their dad," Koprivica said. "I'm the guy who's got to teach these guys how to behave, to play, ... all those little things because I'm going to be the only guy who tasted the Sweet Sixteen and went to those tournaments."
And, if that's where the Cougars want to be again, this year's freshmen will be playing a major role.
"I don't think we will fall off much," Koprivica said, before mentioning the talents of Thompson, who, he said, "is just going to be better than this year. We're going to have Marcus, DeAngelo, Abe (Lodwick), who is shooting really well, Mike (Harthun). And all the news guys coming in."
NOTES: Caleb Forrest played 37 minutes against USC, the most in his career. ... Taylor Rochestie led WSU in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals and minutes played. ... Capers matched Rochestie with five rebounds. ... WSU has lost nine consecutive times to UCLA and the Bruins are the only team the Cougars haven't defeated during Bennett's tenure.
• That's it for tonight. We will probably combine our usual pregame post with our morning one tomorrow, as the game starts at noon. We'll come to you from Pauley a couple hours before that. Until then …