HOOPS NOTEBOOK: Quotable Casto

PULLMAN -- DeAngelo Casto is quite impressive with a basketball, but he's also just as adept when it comes to interacting with reporters. Casto, the high-flying Cougar post player, has an engaging personality that lends itself well to interviews. And Casto was at his fun-loving best after Tuesday's practice at Friel Court.

After tackling teammate Marcus Capers from behind and wrestling with him for an eternity -- it seemed like an eternity to the much smaller Capers, anyway -- DeAngelo Casto had a quick response when asked if he is looking forward to playing against Oregon's large front line in Thursday's Pac-10 opener.

"No," Casto said. "To tell you the truth, I'm not looking forward to it...I realize I'm an undersized ‘big' … day in and day out, it's going to be ‘bang, bang, bang' on my body, on my knees, on my shoulders, on my head. My mouth takes a couple shots a game."

Hold on the sympathy cards for Casto. The 6-foot-8, 241-pound sophomore added a thick layer of muscle in the off-season and continues to hit the weights diligently. He leads the Pac-10 with 2.3 blocked shots per game, and he's sixth in rebounding at 7.3. He's third on the Cougars with 10.8 points.

"I'm still lifting really hard," Casto said. "I eat a lot. I eat healthy.

"I keep my weight up as best as I can. This is important. Like I said, I'm undersized. The least I can do is try to give them something to bang against when I get shoved out of the way."

CASTO AND THE Cougars figure to benefit Thursday if rugged Oregon forward Joevan Catron is limited or sidelined. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound senior led Oregon in rebounding last season, but he's listed as questionable for the Pac-10 opener after missing the past eight games with a back injury.

Another key senior for Oregon, guard Tajuan Porter, is recovering from an ankle injury. He missed four of six games before scoring 15 points Monday in a 73-53 romp over 0-11 Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Oregon is 8-4 and, like Washington State, has won four in a row. The Ducks' non-conference schedule was fairly soft, like WSU's. Oregon is 0-2 on the road after losing its final 14 away contests last season, when a young Ducks team finished 8-23 overall (2-16 Pac-10).

The Ducks have lost six straight to WSU (including three games last season, counting the Pac-10 Tournament) after winning the previous 13 meetings. Game time Thursday is 3:30 p.m. at Friel.

THE COUGARS' 10-2 non-conference record is the best in the Pac-10, but no one in the WSU camp is clearing out room in the trophy case for the school's first conference championship in men's basketball since 1940-41.

Not yet, anyway.

"All of a sudden, people (outsiders) are talking now about we have a chance for Pac-10 championship," senior forward Nikola Koprivica. "I tell guys, ‘Don't listen to what people are saying. We've got to come out and practice every day and grind.'...When Pac-10 (play) starts, it's different. It's not preseason (non-conference). Everybody plays harder."

Koprivica balked at predicting where WSU will finish in the Pac-10 -- "I think we'll do well" -- but Casto did not hesitate to make his thoughts known.

"I would be disappointed if we finished lower than the top three or four teams," Casto said.

The Cougars have cracked the top four in the Pac-10 just three times in the past 25 years. WSU tied for fourth in 1993-94, placed second in 2006-07 and tied for third in 2007-08. The Cougars came in seventh last season.

KOPRIVICA AND CASTO agree with coach Ken Bone that the 10-2 start is surprising for such a young team. However, all three insist that they're not surprised how well WSU has played despite Koprivica being the lone upperclassman.

"I knew we were going to be better than what people thought," Casto said.

Koprivica and Casto said the Cougars were fired up when WSU was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10's preseason media poll.

"I'm really happy they picked us eighth, because I love that underdog mentality," Koprivica said. "Now we have to prove to people, ‘Let's see who is eighth.'"

"As soon as I saw the eighth place, you know what that is -- you have the underdog mentality," Casto said. "You're in eighth place, you automatically play better. You're trying to prove to the rest of the nation and yourself that you're not an eighth-place team."

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