HOOPS: Cougs focus on defense, wins

PULLMAN -- It's make or break time, starting tonight at Oregon State. Pending the outcome of the final two regular season games, WSU could land a No. 5 seed in the Pac-10 tournament, or be forced to play in next Wednesday's 8-9 play-in game. CF.C turned the mic on defensive specialists Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto earlier this week.

Because if the Cougs (16-12, 6-10) are going to pull off a road sweep at Oregon, defense will likely be a big part of it.

WSU heads into Thursday's tilt against OSU (7 p.m., no TV) tied for last in Pac-10 play. Two road wins for Wazzu could prove big for not only the Pac-10 tournament seedings, but postseason dreams as well.

At practice this week, the Cougars' focus was straight and to the point, said Casto.

"Win," Casto said. "Obviously, win, because we can win. And win because we've already beat Oregon State, and we should have gotten one against Oregon. We know we're capable of beating these teams. We need to do this for ourselves mainly so we're not playing on the first night of the Pac-10 tournament because fatigue will be a factor."

Playing in the 8-9 game means WSU would have to win four straight nights in order to capture the tourney crown.

DEFENSE WAS A consistent focus during Tuesday's afternoon practice session, with head man Ken Bone emphasizing the importance of getting to spots crisply, and not being lazy about it. Oregon State's offense is geared towards continual motion and backdoor cuts. It's something the Cougars will want to battle head on Thursday.

"It's going to be a challenge with Oregon State playing in a 'Princeton offense', but we just have to know that we have to play team defense," sophomore guard Capers said. "It's a team concept, and that's what we're focusing on now instead of just two or three individuals. A lot of people look at me and Casto as defenders but if all of us buy into it, we will be ok."

CAPERS ISN'T USUALLY seen as a spot-up shooter from the perimeter but he showed some range on Tuesday, knocking down 18-foot jumpers and even canning a three ball.

Capers told CF.C he's continuing to work on his shooting technique and looks forward to teams eventually viewing him as more than just a defensive presence and a guy who throws down a rim-rattling dunk now and then.

"I've just been working on it with my free time I have when I'm not studying or practicing with the team," Capers said. "Reggie's a great point guard and you know him and X (Xavier Thames) have a knack for getting to the defense and passing it out. If I'm wide open, I'm just thinking more and more to take the shot (and) it's got to go in. I'm just trying to give opposing teams something else to look at other than me being (only) a defender and a driver."

THE COUGS received more great energy and electric plays on Tuesday from Casto. The 6-8 big man was flying around the rim, and threw down three or four high octane dunks. Casto is averaging nearly 15 points over his last 6 games, and credits hard work during practice as the cause.

"I think if I am establishing myself down low, which I've been putting extra time into, it'll make our outside shots easier for Klay (Thompson), Reggie (Moore), and the rest of our shooters, so that they don't have extra pressure with dribbling."

As for Thompson, it is no secret the second-year sophomore guard has been off his game lately. Thompson is a combined 4-35 from the floor in his last three outings. In Tuesday's practice, however, Thompson was fluid with his jumper and connected on a high percentage of his shots during the team's 5-on-5 drills.

Which Thompson will show up for the Cougs this weekend? Cougar Nation will find out tonight. Neither game according to WSU Sports Information will be on TV in the state of Washington, however. Tonight's tilt against Oregon State is only available online through OSU's official website (for a fee) and the regular season ender against Oregon will be on the Ducks' local Oregon Sports Network.

AS FOR OREGON, (5 p.m., Saturday), much has been said this season about the questionable call at the end of the game that gave the Ducks the chance to force overtime and steal a win. Capers said he expects WSU to come out amped up on Saturday, and to be in a position where a late call won't be the deciding factor in the outcome.

"That's just one of the things where we can't leave the game up to the refs," Capers said. "We need to come in and execute. One thing we haven't been consistent at is playing 40 minutes, and we're going to have to for a win."

"We want to go down there and make a statement saying we lost our first game, maybe through a technicality, but we are a better team and we can play at a higher level," Casto added. "We want to go down there and not give the refs an opportunity to not take one away from us."

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