Motum, Casto lead Cougs' grinding way to win

PULLMAN -- They're up, then they're down. They're inspiring, then they're depressing. They're winning, then they're losing. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your 2010-11 Washington State Cougars. The consistently inconsistent Cougars did not always play well Saturday, but their effort was consistently outstanding. Anything less, and their 75-71 win over California could have easily been reversed.

"I don't think all games are going to be pretty," WSU's Brock Motum said. "You'll have to grind out some, and we were able to grind one out."

The Cougars spread the glory, as five players with 11 or more points each accounted for all the scoring at Friel Court. Interestingly, the two leading scorers were reserves Motum (19) and Faisal Aden (18) on a day when starters Abe Lodwick and Marcus Capers went scoreless.

Motum, a sophomore forward from Australia, delivered his finest performance in a Cougars uniform. The 19 points were a career high, but just as importantly, the lanky youngster banged bodies down low all afternoon with Cal's wide bodies. He grabbed 5 rebounds and a steal.

"I think his focus was good," coach Ken Bone said, "and he did a good job of denying the ball in certain areas so they couldn't get the ball deep near the basket. Because once they get it too deep, it's hard for him."

The Cougars trailed most of the first half before taking a 25-23 lead into the locker room. WSU led most of the second half, but the Bears briefly took the lead before junior DeAngelo Casto took over the game.

Casto, who gave an enthusiastic crowd of 7,640 -- not to mention WSU coaches and players -- a scare when he limped off the floor with a twisted ankle with 7:20 left, soon returned with a vengeance.

The high-flying Casto tipped in a basket, then rammed home a thunderous two-handed dunk that gave WSU the lead for good at 61-60 with 4:07 left. Half of Casto's 14 points came in the last five minutes, and he finished with five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

"He's tough," Motum said. "Not too many things are going to keep him out of a big game like this."

Casto has knocked down 15 of 17 shots the past two games, including 5 of 6 on Saturday.

"He was very impressive the last two games," Bone said, "and not just shooting and scoring. "He battles and fights and defends and rebounds. I think he's doing an outstanding job."

WSU improved to 17-8 overall and 7-6 in the Pac-10. The Cougars play three of their five remaining league games on the road, starting Thursday at 15th-ranked Arizona (5:30 p.m., FSN).

SHOOTERS STRUGGLE: Bone, who loves 3-point shooters, hopes his long-range gunners rediscover their shooting touch by Thursday. After going 6-for-24 (25 percent) from beyond the arc Saturday, the Cougars are 16-for-82 (19.5 percent) from downtown over the past four games.

"We have some good 3-point shooters," Bone said. "We keep letting them put it up. Hopefully, they'll get their confidence up and start draining some of them."

Abe Lodwick was 0-for-5 from downtown, while other noted bombers Aden and Klay Thompson were 2-for-7 and 3-for-8, respectively.

MOTIVATE THYSELF: Bone had nothing but good things to say about his team's effort and intensity Saturday, but that hasn't always been the case. The Cougars may have unwittingly revealed a glitch in their mental make-up when they openly discussed how challenging it was to get revved up in front of the "small" -- their word, not ours -- crowd of 6,517 at Thursday's loss to Stanford. They were specifically comparing the atmosphere to that for the previous home game, a near sellout for Washington 11 days earlier.

Memo to Cougars: The Huskies game was ancient history. A crowd of 6,500 is 2,000 more than USC averages in a metro area of 13 million. It represents more than one-fifth the population of Pullman (counting students). Only three Pac-10 teams average more than 8,000, and WSU isn't one of them.

Mind you, Cougar coaches and players have often echoed opponents in raving about the enthusiasm of many Friel Court crowds. It's human nature to play hard when crowds are large and loud, but 100 percent effort and concentration seems like the bare minimum that should be expected from athletes playing for a free education.

The Cougars' inconsistency may be linked to the fact that there are few fiery personalities among players and coaches. Bone jumps on players verbally when he deems it necessary, but he generally conducts himself in a calm, somewhat scholarly manner.

Coaches and players spoke during a lengthy, closed-doors meeting after Thursday's game. Later, Bone was asked if he has trouble getting a read on his team.

"Yeah," Bone said. "That'd be a good way to say it. They surprise me." Coach, you're not the only one.

THOMPSON TOUGH: Combine that gorgeous jumper with the emotion-free game face he usually wears, and Klay Thompson can fool casual fans into thinking the game comes uncommonly easy for him. Thompson, in fact, is widely respected among WSU coaches and players for his work ethic and love for the game. The junior guard has been a starter since game one of his freshman year, but he has evolved from little more than a jump shooter and defensive liability into a marvelous all-around performer.

The latter statement is supported by a stats line that is remarkable for a player in a quality major conference like the Pac-10. Entering Saturday's game, Thompson ranked in the top 10 in nine of the 13 individual statistics compiled by the league. Everything from scoring to assists to steals to defensive rebounds to blocked shots to 3-point field-goal shooting percentage and beyond.How many college players in any league have ever been first in scoring and third in assists like Thompson? With 20.6 points per game, he's bidding to become the first Cougar to lead the Pac-10 in scoring since Don Collins poured in a school-record 23.1 ppg in 1979-80.Given that Thompson (held to 13 points Saturday, as he remains in a mild scoring slump) is pondering the possibility of turning pro this year, fans might want to take advantage of the opportunity to watch Thompson while they can. NBA draft pundits have projected Thompson going as high as late in the first round this June.

Barring a post-season home game -- fairly unlikely, since spring break takes place the week after the Pac-10 tournament March 9-12 in Los Angeles -- WSU's only remaining home games are March 3 against USC and March 5 against UCLA.


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