HOOPS: Young Cougs take opening round victory

IT'S EARLY IN the hoops season -- the Cougs won't even open their Pac-10 schedule until more than a month from today. Still, WSU's opening game victory in the Great Alaskan Shootout tonight drove the point home, one that has been oft-mentioned these past several months -- these Cougars are young.

Washington State put together a 19-point victory over Alaska Anchorage tonight in their opening round game of the Great Alaska Shootout. And there was a lot that was good about it.

But there were also clear indications Washington State (4-0) has work to do if they're going to make a serious run this season in the Pac-10.

FIRST, A NOD towards the good. The Cougars never trailed in their 87-68 tournament opening win. They built an early second half lead of 19-points, and then late in the game rebuilt their advantage up to 21. Marcus Capers showed off more of that brimming athleticism -- particularly on a pair of rim-rattling, two handed slams in the second stanza.

Frosh Reggie Moore (17 points) is, at times, ultra-explosive. And if you lose your concentration, he'll pick your pocket as soon as look 'atcha. Abe Lodwick has proven to have been Mr. Hustle this season and tonight was no exception. And heaven help those in Lodwick's way when he's going after a rebound or loose ball.

Star forward DeAngelo Casto had a "quiet" night, with "only" 10 points, 3 steals, 2 blocks in 22 minutes. Casto is already a prominent college basketball player. But just imagine what the true sophomore, four games into his second collegiate season, is capable of as he continues to develop the tutelage of Ken Bone. Frankly, the sky's the limit for Casto. If he grabs hold with both hands and seizes opportunity by the throat, the take from this vantage point is that he will become an unstoppable college basketball force of nature.

Nikola Koprivica has rediscovered, on a much more consistent basis in the early going this season and tonight, both his shooting touch and slash-and-dash-to-the-rim style. That's something that has been often absent ever since he blew out his knee his freshman season.

And Charlie Enquist, on a few plays tonight, showed both assertiveness on the defensive end and a feathery touch on offense from the baseline -- things WSU desperately needs more of considering their lack of proven big men.

And then there's Klay Thompson, who posted 25 points and seven boards tonight.

Thompson is a steely eyed missile man.

Thompson can, from just about anywhere, flat out shoot. And, in a variety of ways, he can score. And a whole lot more.

AND THERE WERE ALSO those lapses, exactly the kind you see with a young team -- and make no mistake, this is an incredibly young Cougars' team. As has been well documented on CF.C, and yet still can't be stated enough early on this campaign, there is all of but one senior (Nikola Koprivica) and zero juniors on the Cougar squad.

That is Young, with a capital Y.

AFTER BUILDING A 19-point lead early in the second half, the Cougars went deep-freezer cold for an extended stretch on offense. Worse, they allowed AA on the other end to carve that margin by more than half. The Cougars suddenly led by just eight at the 5:28 mark, before they put their opponent away for good.

The "why" was readily apparent. Washington State didn't get a hand in the face of Alaska Anchorage's shooters nearly enough out beyond the arc -- while AA's percentage from 3-point land faded down the stretch, they hit 10 three-pointers on the night. Brandon Walker nailed 5-of-8 from downtown.

In college hoops, when a player is on and ripping the chord from long distance, sometimes you just have to tip your cap -- nature of the beast. But tonight, WSU allowed far too many open looks, they simply didn't contest enough shots, and for long stretches on the perimeter.

Wazzu was also inconsistent when boxing out, in part allowing Alaska Anchorage to shoot 44.4 percent in the second half.

STILL, IT WAS an 87-68 Cougar win -- so perhaps some of that is overly critical. After all, it was a 19-point triumph by a young team still in its early, developmental stages.

And young teams often play up and down to their level of competition. Winless Nicholls State is up next for the Cougars and if they emerge victorious, they're likely to face No. 25 Oklahoma in the finals. And some early season answers should be revealed.

The schedule is just as tough post-Palin Country, with Gonzaga and Kansas State on deck after the Great Alaska Shootout. Both Gonzaga and K-State this week are on the cusp of the Top 25 polls -- Gonzaga gave No. 2 Michigan State everything it wanted and a whole lot more last week.

First things first though, and that's Nichols State. Tip is at 6 p.m. PST on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Both the finals and third-place games are slated for Saturday.

Don't know about you, but I can't wait.

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