HARMELING: Why I'm smiling today

IF YOU WEREN'T encouraged by the Cougar basketball team in the game at Gonzaga the other night you're out of your mind. I was on the edge of my seat watching that game. Afterward, while disappointed the Cougs didn't take care of business down the stretch, my outlook for the Cougs was sky high. Here's why.

In no partcular order of observation ....

1. If Xavier Thames can shoot consistently as shown at the Kennel, you are looking at a future star. When my current boss, former Gonzaga All-American Dan Dickau, called me after the game, Thames' was one of the first names out of his mouth.

2. If you taped the game, watch the Bouldin 3-pointer with roughly 14 minutes left in the first half. More ball pressure here and I guarantee it buys Marcus Capers an extra split second to beat the screen and take away the shot. The Cougs will learn a big lesson from that one play.

3. The Cougs proved they can score without Klay going off (six first-half points for Klay, 39 for the rest of the team). Consider that possibly the best news from the night.

4. For 30 minutes, the Cougars were in attack mode. The Cougars are a good team in attack mode.

5. A roster of 19- and 20 year-olds played poised in the toughest environment in the country.

6. Reggie Moore appears like the kind of kid that doesn't get rattled. That might be the most desirable trait you can find in a point guard. By the way, did you notice the absolute DIME Moore dropped midway second half? (I believe it was to Koprovicia under the rim).

Bottom line, the future of the Cougar basketball program is bright and in good hands.

NOW, FOR A HANDFUL OF other observations from the Gonzaga-Cougar game ...

1. Gonzaga's bigs do an incredible job of running the floor and sealing early. This part of the game really helped them turn the tide in their favor in the second half.

2. My top two highlights of the night from the announcers: "Lodwick really isn't much of a threat out there." Moments later, Loddy buries a 3 from the corner. And then there was this: "When you turn the ball over you get no opportunities at the basket." No comment.

3. In a column earlier this week I gave credit to the Zags and their fans about how hard it is to play in the Kennel. But no matter how hard it is to play there, it doesn't mean I respect what is said there. Here's my rule of thumb for trash talk: if the circumstances are out of a player's control, it's off limits. If the circumstances are in a player's control (what ink you put on your body, your haircut, choices made off the court, your demeanor, etc.), then it's game on. Keeping that in mind, kudos to the Zag fans who chose to harass a WSU player for circumstances COMPLETELY out of his control. Factors that, without doubt, took an incredible amount of drive and emotional strength to overcome. I mean, well done fans. That takes a lot of courage to say that to a man during a game when you're hidden by a sea of other fans. And I'm sure you would have said the same things to him if you saw him one-on-one in public ... then again, maybe not. So next time you think about continuing the courageous act of bringing a man's tragic family background into the picture, perhaps you should think again.

4. Give credit where credit is due. Matt Bouldin wasn't going to let them lose the game. Having said that, going under a few of his ball screen three-balls instead of chasing over the top might have been the difference in the game.

5. If those weren't the backbreaker, then letting them slip the screens for dunks down the stretch may have truly done it. Defense is soooo critical especially down the stretch. And as soon as that last period hit the paper it dawned on me that those comments may have rivaled the turnover statement above for OSOW award (Obvious Statement Of the Week).

6. I'm not calling Demetrius Goodson a dirty player. But I am a bit skeptical over his attempted "box-out" on Casto as he rose up from behind for the put-back. I'll admit at first it looked like over the back, but the view under the hoop showed me otherwise. I could be wrong. But most players don't tend to backpedal under a player that has left the ground.

7. Cracking the top 5 on my Christmas Wish List is a haircut for Stephen Gray. The headband look brings back shades of Derrick Low, but without really pull off the look like the Flyin Hawaiian could.

8. Capers is a finisher, not a creator. That's not a criticism, it's an observation. Some players can do both, like Kyle Weaver. I would label Reggie Moore a guy that can do both as well. We need to do a better job of finding a way to get Capers in those situations. Asking him to penetrate/create, at this point in his career, is not doing him or the rest of the team any favors. This doesn't mean he won't drive and dish opportunistically, it's just not his strength right now.

9. Like any logical fan, I was disappointed with the outcome but that's not what kept me up that night. I honestly lost sleep over this conundrum: who wanted Gonzaga to win more, Mark Few or Greg Heister?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team – and a fixture on the Pac-10 All-Academic team – during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility last season and now is in Vancouver, Wash., running clinics for Dan Dickau Basketball, coaching high school ball, and working as a substitute teacher. He is writing a regular column for Cougfan.com this season.

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