COUGAR BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK

SPOKANE -- When Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto passed up their senior seasons to turn pro, many basketball "experts" predicted a season bordering on disaster for the Washington State Cougars. When the Cougars twice fell behind by 21 points midway through the second half of their season opener Monday, the experts were looking ... well, pretty expert.

A few minutes later, the experts -- not to mention the 22nd-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs -- were looking shell-shocked. The Cougars rallied in spectacular fashion to twice pull within three in the final 1 1/2 minutes, but the Bulldogs hit seven straight free throws in the last 35 seconds to escape with an 89-81 victory Monday night on national television.

"I thought our guys showed a lot of character, there's no doubt about it," coach Ken Bone told reporters outside the WSU locker room at the McCarthey Athletic Center. "We did not lay down and roll over against an outstanding team on their home court."

WSU might very well have pulled off the upset if not for the sensational, 33-point performance of Gonzaga's freshman point guard Kevin Pangos. Still, Bone said he was "very proud" of his team.

"We made good strides tonight," he said. "We're better now than before we came to Spokane.

"That was the whole idea. Let's just keep trying to get better and better."

RALLY TIME: WSU guards Reggie Moore and DaVonté Lacy both scored 11 points in the second half. Neither player seemed remotely surprised by the stirring comeback, even though the Cougars trailed by 21 against a Top 25 team in one of the loudest, most intimidating arenas in the country.

"We weren't even worried about it, to be honest," Moore said calmly.

"I wasn't very surprised because this team has so much heart," Lacy said. "I feel we're not going to give up."

TEAM FIRST: Bone and his players have emphasized the importance of teamwork and good chemistry to make up for the loss of great talents like Thompson and Casto. So far, so good in that regard.

"We've got heart," Moore said. "Mike's probably got the most heart on this team – Mike Ladd. I'm probably the heart and soul of the team. DaVonté came in and gave us a spark. Brock's (Brock Motum is) the man. Will DiIorio came in and did what he does."

BALANCED SCORING: Motum led the Cougars with 17 points, eight rebounds and 37 minutes played. Moore, questionable due to a lingering groin problem ("It's pretty sore"), had 14 points and team highs of five assists and three steals in 31 minutes at point guard.

Lacy, the promising freshman out of Curtis High School in suburban Tacoma, scored all of his 11 points in the final 11 minutes. Ladd, the Fresno State transfer who starred with Moore at Seattle's Rainier Beach High, had 10 of his 14 points in the second half. Faisel Aden gave the Cougars a fifth player in double figures when he scored 12 points, and he also grabbed seven rebounds.

OH CANADA: Four Bulldogs scored in double figures, but the player everyone was talking about afterwards was Pangos. A veteran of international play -- at 16, he became the youngest man ever to play on the Canadian national team -- Pangos buried 9 of 13 shots from 3-point range. The nine treys tied a school record set by former NBA guard Dan Dickau.

"I haven't seen anyone shoot that good since I was in the sixth grade, and that kid was just throwin' it up there," Lacy said with a smile. "He (Pangos) shot unbelievable. Like, really unbelievable."

Pangos, who came off the bench to score 11 points in Gonzaga's season-opening win over Eastern Washington last Friday, replaced sophomore David Stockton in the starting lineup. Stockton's father, Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton from Gonzaga and the NBA's Utah Jazz, watched the game from his usual center-court seat.

BOARD WORK: Gonzaga's quality big men, 7-foot center Robert Sacre and rugged forward Elias Harris, combined for 29 points and 21 rebounds. The Bulldogs outrebounded WSU 41-33 (14-10 on the offensive glass) and the difference almost certainly would have been greater if Sacre had not sat out the final 17 minutes of the first half with two fouls.

"It (rebounding) was a huge concern of ours," Bone said, "and it will continue to be until we can solve the problem. It's going to be a tough one to solve."

LACY SHINES: Lacy, who did not take a shot in the first half after picking up two fouls and playing just four minutes, nailed back-to-back 3-pointers late in the game to keep the Cougars close.

"He did a nice job in the second half," Bone said.

"I was a little nervous going in, I'm not going to lie," Lacy said.

Lacy said the raucous, sellout crowd of 6,000 made McCarthey "a hard place to play my first game," but he also said, "Gonzaga is one of the best places to play."

NEXT UP:
The Cougars make their home debut Thursday against Sacramento State (7 p.m., no TV). The Hornets, 2-0 this season against lightweight competition, somehow managed to fall behind 27-0 in an 84-36 loss at WSU last year. Bone said "there's a chance" that projected starting forward Abe Lodwick, who sat out Monday's game with a sprained foot, will play Thursday. "But there's a chance he'll be out a week or two," Bone added.

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