Fresh off their improbable back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, there were a lot of prognosticators who thought the Cougs would have trouble maintaining their success this season.
So far, so good.
Aron Baynes scored 14 points and Caleb Forrest matched his career high with 13 as Washington State annihilated Mississippi Valley State, 76-25.
The 25 points allowed are the fewest by WSU in the shot clock era. That stat breaks the record set last year when the Cougars held the same Delta Devils to 26 points in a 71-26 blowout at the Spokane Arena.
Don't be surprised if you have a hard time telling the difference so far between this year's team and last year's. Despite the losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill, WSU continues to be dominant on both ends of the floor.
The Cougars held MVSU to 16.7% shooting and held them scoreless for the first 11:32 of the game. During that time WSU opened up a 28-0 lead, and never let up. The Cougars registered eight blocks, including four from freshman DeAngelo Casto and three from redshirt frosh Charlie Enquist. The Cougs only allowed 11 points in the first half, matching the number of MVSU team fouls. Only four Delta Devils scored in the game.
Equally impressive was the Cougar offense. WSU shot 55.3% from the floor, including 46.2% from the new three point line, which is exactly one foot farther from the bucket than last season. Nikola Koprivica, a 14% 3-point shooter last year, went 2 for 3 from behind the arc. Aron Baynes dominated the paint, going 6 for 8 from the field en route to 14 points and five rebounds. Forrest added 13 on a 4 for 8 effort and Daven Harmeling added nine for WSU.
CougCenter player of the game: Aron Baynes. The slimmed down big man looked dominant in the first regular season game of the year, leading all scorers with 14 and playing solid low-post defense on the other end of the court.
Lots of great contributors, though, for WSU last night. Bud Nameck gave his player of the game award to Forrest and the WSUCougars.com basketball blog gave the nod to Marcus Capers (6 points, 6 assists).
CougCenter play of the game: Aron Baynes dunks viciously on a MVSU player who shall remain nameless because 1) I didn't see his number and 2) he really doesn't need further embarrassment.
Now for my notes:
Look who's starting: Nuss was dead on with yesterday's starting lineup, which featured Taylor Rochestie, Klay Thompson, Nikola Koprivica, Daven Harmeling and Aron Baynes. Overall playing time was very balanced for the Cougars, who wanted to give their freshmen some much-needed experience. Ryan Bailey was the only player on the court who played less than ten minutes.
Witherill in, Harthun out: The most surprising move of the night came when Tony inserted freshman Nick Witherill into the lineup. Witherill was expected to redshirt this year, while Mike Harthun, a much more highly-recruited guard out of Oregon, was expected to get playing time. It looks like now it will be Harthun getting the redshirt, while Witherill will be used as another option at guard. It appears that neither will be a part of the regular rotation this season.
While it's a surprise that Harthun may not play this year, it's not a total shock. One of the things I like about Harthun is that he's an honest guy. Here's his own writing from the official athletics blog earlier this month:
The season up to this point has been a humbling experience to say the least. For me it has been a difficult transition from high school, but I look forward to the challenges that it brings each day. In high school I was the best or second best player on the team behind Kyle Singler (currently at Duke). Now on this team I am far from that, but I like it that way. It gives me new goals and things to work on each day in practice. Also I have no choice, but to improve when I am playing against the high level of competition that I am. Right now I am trying to slow down a bit and enjoy the game like I should be doing.
The theme behind this statement, and his whole post (scroll down to 11/7 on the blog to read it), is that it's a big transition from high school to college. And he's exactly right. The transition is strange enough for those of us who don't play sports - I can't imagine what it is like with all the added pressure of having to perform on the court. He's also a bit apprehensive about all the course work with college (who isn't?), so giving him a redshirt will give him the opportunity to spread out his classes and decrease some of the workload there.
I'm still surprised about the redshirt, because in the exhibition game I saw Harthun and he has a ton of promise. At this point I would say he has more raw talent than Witherill. The difference is that Harthun just needs to slow things down and play his game. I think it goes without saying that he will eventually settle in just fine at WSU and be a key contributor down the road. But for now, I think he'll get some benefit out of the redshirt. The reason I'm not a huge fan of the decision is that I think Witherill could benefit just as much from an extra year.
However, both Witherill and Harthun are excellent players and vital to the future of the program. A couple of years from now when they are both helping the Cougs to victory, we'll probably forget about the whole redshirt thing that's going on now. In addition, we'll probably be pretty happy to get five whole years out of Harthun.
Poor MVSU: Mississippi Valley State played #15 Arizona State pretty hard on Friday night, losing by only 16 points. They were also a tournament team last year. That's why I can't imagine anything more demoralizing than a round of applause from the ZZU CRU after Dwayne Harmason made the first bucket for the Devils with 8:28 left to play in the first half.
Klay Thompson, still a key to success. Thompson continues to have the green light to shoot when he's open. He scored eight last night on 3 of 7 shooting. Some of the shots were still suspect in their selection, but as the season progresses expect Klay to get smarter about his opportunities. Thompson is going to have to replace the scoring of Derrick Low if the Cougars are going to succeed this year, and he's off to a great start. I don't think it's a stretch to say that he may even lead the team in scoring this year.
The students aren't going to be happy: A lot of grumblings already out of the resized student section last night, especially with a baseline section that was mostly empty - a few splotches of paying customers here and there. Expect it to get worse when the later-arriving students are shut out of the Gonzaga game on Dec. 6th 10th.