Sizing up Cougs after downing of the Dawgs

PULLMAN -- At least three encouraging developments came out of Washington State's 87-80 win over Washington on Sunday. Foremost is that the Cougars' bench is alive and well. If the WSU bench isn't cookin', the Cougars not only lose games but get blown off the court. Sunday's contest was an ode to the power of guys coming off the sidelines.

Sixth-man Faisal Aden contributed 15 points and four assists, and Brock Motum and Patrick Simon also had their moments. No one, however, drew more praise from coach Ken Bone than seldom-used junior post-man Charlie Enquist, who played nine invaluable minutes of quality defense – and nabbed three rebounds -- with DeAngelo Casto in foul trouble.

Injuries, bad games, bad halves, foul problems, and more happen in basketball; good teams need great play from reserves to get to victory lane.

There were other reasons for the crimson faithful to smile Sunday night:

  • With Oregon's Mac Court now in retirement, Friel Court -- when it's packed like Sunday -- is unmatched in the Pac-10 when it comes to loud, in-your-face crowd support. More importantly, WSU players and coaches don't take it for granted. They unabashedly express their love and appreciation for the fans, and it's hard to believe the Cougars would have played that well against an outstanding team like Washington if not for the home-court advantage.

    IN KLAY WE TRUST! says superfan Ryan Dingle.

  • Klay Thompson is, well, Klay Thompson. When all else fails, it's always nice to be able to put the ball in the hands of one of the best collegiate players in the land and let the magic begin. Why Sunday's game fell about 1,000 short of a sell out is a mystery, but consider this fair warning: The Cougars have just four home games left (barring a post-season appearance in Pullman), and Thompson might be playing in the NBA at this time next year. Might not be a bad idea to purchase tickets early to make certain you see one of WSU's all-time greats a few more times before he gets rich.

    AT THE RISK OF TAKING THE air out of some puffed-with-pride chests, Sunday's win also amplified at least three points of concern. Call 'em the hat trick of horrors.

  • The Cougars lack size and muscle inside, and their increasing (and effective) use of the 2-3 zone makes their rebounding deficiencies even more glaring. The Huskies walloped WSU 46-32 on the glass, including 15-6 on the offensive end. The Cougars have been outrebounded in four of the past five games, including a minus-24 showing the past two games against Arizona and Washington.

  • Husky coach Lorenzo Romar raved about WSU's defense, and it was quite good for the most part. Still, Washington missed plenty of open jumpers, and rarely will quality players like Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning combine to miss 17 of 21 shots as they did Sunday. Only a fool would be dismissive of WSU's 37.8 field-goal percentage defense, which ranks among the best marks in the country, this late in the season. However, the Cougars must remain diligent on D, because they're not always going to hit nearly half their 3-pointers like Sunday (8-for-17), nor will they win too many games when giving up 80 points.

  • The Cougars must learn to breathe deep at the free-throw line. There have been some issues late in games, including Sunday, when Thompson -- one of the best free-throw shooters in school history -- missed the front end of five straight trips to the line in the last 5:02, and Casto missed two freebies with 4:06 left. Obviously, that would be fatal in many games. But it did not matter Sunday.

    THE COUGARS' NEXT THREE GAMES -- Thursday at Oregon, Saturday at Oregon State and at home Feb. 10 against Stanford -- pit WSU against teams with losing Pac-10 records. Better yet, Washington State has already defeated all three of those teams.

    Win those three and the Cougars are 8-4 in the Pac-10 and 18-6 overall heading into the final third of the conference schedule. All of a sudden, the Cougars' twin goals of winning their first conference championship in 70 years (70!) and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years seem plausible.

    "I think we have a chance to run the table," Thompson said Sunday.


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