Cougs quietly playing D, cleaning glass

BROCK MOTUM IS the reigning Pac-12 Conference scoring champion, but scoring seemed to be the last thing on the minds of Washington State's tri-captains when they were asked to identify the keys to a successful Pac-12 basketball season in Pullman.

"Rebounding is a big key," Mike Ladd said.

"Sharing the ball and being solid and play more as a team," DaVonté Lacy said.

"Defense has been really good," Motum said.

Motum said WSU has "done a really good job" with rebounding, but he's not entirely satisfied. Even when the Cougars blasted undersized Idaho State 43-16 on the glass Saturday, Motum didn't sound all that impressed.

"I think we need to continue to improve in that area," he said.

Still, the 9-4 Cougars are plus-77 in rebounding after 13 games. Last season, the 19-18 Cougars finished plus-72 on the glass.

WSU's rebounding advantage was reduced to a mere plus-8 during Pac-12 play last season, which helps explain the 7-11 conference record. Rebounding again figures to play a huge role in determining the Cougars' success in conference play, which begins Saturday at home against 8-5 Washington (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).

"I think we can finish in the top four," Motum said. "We just need to peak at the right time."

The Cougars, who tied Oregon State for eighth in the Pac-12 last season, were picked to finish 10th in this year's preseason poll of Pac-12 media. Washington State was tied with Stanford for the seventh-best record in the Pac-12 when the Cougars wrapped up non-conference play Saturday, but Arizona State – picked to finish 11th in the poll – has an 11-2 record that is second only to the 12-0 mark of Arizona.

Of course, non-conference schedules vary widely in difficulty. The Cougars have played only one game on a college campus (losing at Pepperdine on Nov. 16), and their only other road games – excluding unofficial "home" games in Seattle and Kennewick – resulted in a pair of losses at a tournament Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City, Mo.

Motum stressed prior to the season the importance of winning on the road if the Cougars are going to be successful. A two-point loss to then-No. 10 Gonzaga is all that separates WSU from an 8-0 record in Pullman, not to mention an eight-game winning streak overall.

The Cougars carry a season-best four-game winning streak into Saturday's game with the Huskies, who had won four in a row before struggling in a loss Saturday at rebuilding Connecticut. Washington lacks the offensive firepower of recent years, and the Cougars lead the Pac-12 in points allowed per game with a stingy 55.2 average.

"I think we're playing really good defense because we're committed to defense," Motum said.

The Cougars have not been overwhelming on offense, but Motum, Ladd and Lacy all scored 16 or 17 points Saturday, and three players have scored in double figures in three of the past four games. Motum, who leads WSU with 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, has scored at least 14 points every game.

"If we get stops (on defense), we'll get points," Ladd said.

"We know our strengths," said Lacy, who is second on the Cougars with 11.8 points (Ladd ranks third at 8.9). "We go to Brock and we go to whoever's on fire."

Motum certainly won't be able to carry the Cougars by himself in the Pac-12. Since the Cougars' last winning conference season (11-7 in 2007-08), WSU has gone 45-16 (.738) in pre-conference games, but tailed off to 30-42 (.417) in league play.

"We have a lot of good pieces that are ready to be put in place before Pac-12 play," Motum said. "We've lost three games by two or less … I think we can learn from those.

"When we're in tight games in Pac-12 play, hopefully we can draw from that experience and be on the winning side of things."

Cougfan Top Stories