Sunny days for Cougars as they hit the road

AS THE COUGARS head off on a 14-day road trip to warmer territory -- stating with a non-televised tussle at Santa Clara on Sunday -- they are packing a morale boost.

With a 7-1 record, the Cougars are ranked ninth in the nation in field-goal percentage and 54th in points per game -- and it has attracted some notice. Washington State is receiving votes in The Associated Press Poll, as well as one in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll.

The confidence comes from an effort led by a pair of juniors who are sharing the scoring load. Wing Klay Thompson and guard Faisal Aden are averaging 20.8 and 18.3 points per game, respectively, and are two of the top three scorers in the Pac-10.

Thompson also leads the league and the team in assists per game with 4.9, while Aden is tied for third in the conference in 3-point field goals made, with 21 total and 2.6 per game, and third in steals with 2.0 an outing, which is the best among the team.

SOPHOMORE FORWARD BROCK Motum is third on the team with 9.3 points per game, and leads the conference in field-goal percentage with a .756 mark on 31-for-41 shooting.

Rounding out the top five are junior center DeAngelo Casto, back from a sprained foot and averaging 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and sophomore point guard Reggie Moore, who is produces 6.0 points an outing.

Junior wing Marcus Capers leads the team in rebounds, with 6.1 an outing, good for 11th in the Pac-10, and leads both the conference and the country with a 5.8 assists/turnover ratio.

The players are coming off a nine-day hiatus from games since the university had finals week this past week. They last played in a 74-52 win over Texas-Pan American Dec. 10 at Spokane Arena.

THE SIX-GAME ROAD trip marks just the second true road game for the Cougars, who defeated Fresno State 66-55 on Nov. 26. They also hosted road games at Spokane Arena and against Portland at KeyArena in Seattle on Nov. 23.

The Cougars open against Santa Clara (6-5) at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Leavey Center. They are 2-0 against the Broncos -- but have not played them since December 1973. Still, WSU has a 117-54 record against current members of the West Coast Conference, and has defeated seven of the eight schools.

The team will then leave Santa Clara for paradise -- and three games in the Diamond Head Classic on Honolulu. They face Mississippi State in the opening round at 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday. The Cougars defeated the Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Legends Classic two years ago.

The Cougars will then play bv neither San Diego or Baylor, and lead both series 2-1.

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