Lots of offense, but D still big with Cougs

PULLMAN -- As the basketball game wore on Monday night at Friel Court, the stats sheets distributed periodically to the media grew increasingly faded. "They ran out of ink -- they're not used to a WSU team scoring this many points," someone cracked.

Anyone who gets overly excited about a 73-51 exhibition victory over Lewis-Clark State is hereby sentenced to 30 hours of hard labor.

Still, it's probably worth noting that the Cougars topped 73 points only four times last year. Two of those marks came in the first three games, and WSU's season high was a rather mundane 82 points.

Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that the Cougars scored 73 points Monday while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 39 percent on 3-pointers. Last season, the Cougars finished way, way, WAY back in the national rankings with 59.2 points per game, 43.4 percent shooting from the field and 34.5 percent on 3's.

Arguably the most important development that emerged from WSU's lone exhibition game -- and again, let's keep an unofficial game against an underwhelming NAIA team in perspective -- were the defensive numbers. The Cougars held L-C State to 26 percent shooting, including 21 percent on 3-pointers, and picked off 11 steals.

So much for the panic-stricken fans who presumed Ken Bone's decision to abandon Tony Bennett's defense-defense-defense-and-more-defense philosophy in favor of having a little fun on offense was a sure-fire death sentence for Cougar basketball, particularly on the defensive end.

Mind you, the Cougars will struggle at times this season. When you have just one upperclassman, a freshman starting at point guard and only one proven scorer, there are bound to be nights when you get humbled like, say, the Cougar football team. Youth and inexperience has doomed the football team, and there will be times when it does the basketball team no favors.

In basketball, however, youth prevails more often than in football because quickness and athleticism can more easily cover for a lack of muscle. Except for DeAngelo Casto, the Cougars' inside players are so lean, they look like they went to the blood bank and forgot to say "when."

What the Cougars do have this season -- arguably, more than any Cougar team before them -- is quicks, hops and athleticism. On Monday, the 6-foot-8 Casto started with four players listed as guards -- 6-7 Abe Lodwick, 6-6 Klay Thompson, 6-4 Marcus Capers and 6-1 Reggie Moore.

\Casto, a key reserve as a freshman last year, is already one of the top shot blockers, dunkers and inside defenders in the Pac-10. He may get some help from the likes of redshirt freshman James Watson, a 6-7 forward who sat out Monday after suffering his second concussion of the preseason in practice last week. Bone said he expects Watson to play Friday in the official opener against visiting Mississippi Valley State.

Moore is so quick, he steals balls and runs halfway down the court before his victims fully comprehend what has happened to them. The Friel Court crowd came absolutely unglued a few times when Moore slammed home two-handed dunks or set up Casto for monster dunks with alley-oop feeds.

Capers, who often played defense about as well as a freshman can play it last year, is showing no signs of a sophomore slump.

Defensively, anyway. As for his shooting … well, let's just say that the wide-open baseline jumper that he clanked off the side of the backboard Monday brought back some painful memories from last year. Thank goodness another sophomore guard, Mike Harthun (5-for-6 Monday for 10 points), has been shooting the ball superbly throughout the preseason.

As for Thompson … the dude is a baller, and that's all that needs to be said. Most fans cheer Thompson primarily for those velvety jumpers he drains from all over the court, but his arms are longer than O.J. Simpson's rap sheet, and he can be a very good defender at times.

A basketball team will not lose too many games by shooting 56 percent, handing out 18 assists and making off with 11 steals. On the other hand, WSU out-rebounded a similarly small team by only four, and 47 percent shooting at the free-throw line certainly won't cut it.

Hey -- it's just one game. One unofficial, non-counting, semi-meaningless game. Bone, his players and the crowd -- a surprisingly small and quiet gathering of 3,476, despite free admission -- came away from Monday's outing knowing there's plenty to like and plenty to … well, not hate, but not like a whole lot as the season opener nears.

"We've got a bunch to work on still," said Thompson, who barely worked up a sweat scoring a game-high 19 points and draining all four of his 3's. "We're young, but we've got a lot of talent.

"I think we've got a good future if we just work hard, and we've got to stay forced every practice and every game."

As for Bone … well, he was the calmest guy in the house. Like Bennett before him, Bone won't be doing a lot of sideline sprinting, jacket tossing and referee baiting.

Soft-spoken and thoughtful by nature, Bone isn't afraid to give a player an earful when he honestly believes it will do some good. The man's love for teaching basketball is obvious, particularly in the practice gym, and his players cherish the up-tempo brand of basketball that he's brought to town. He says Monday's offensive production was just the beginning of something big.
"Seventy-three points is not a tremendous amount of points," the coach said. "We got a lot of opportunities.

"I thought it was OK ‘pushing it,' but we weren't great at that. Part of that is my fault. I didn't do a great job of subbing guys."

Honest, straightforward, modest. That's what you get with Bone, a man who has won and won and won some more everywhere he's spent much time.

Hang on, Cougar fans. This could be an awfully fun ride for the next decade or two.

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