Heading into this game against the Oregon State, I fully admit I didn't have a good feeling about WSU's chances. I saw mismatches all over the floor and a team that loves to run playing a Cougar team that struggles to control tempo.
But WSU had a sound game plan that involved a 3/4-court zone press and a 2-3 zone in the halfcourt that effectively eliminated Oregon State's ability to run; when combined with Brock Motum's strong start and finish to the game, the Cougars were able escape the opening weekend of Pac-12 play with a split after beating the Beavers, 81-76.
The Cougars led by double digits midway through the second half, but the game wasn't without its tense moments down the stretch -- Oregon State closed within three with about three minutes to go behind some hot shooting from Ahmad Starks and pressure defense that forced the Cougars into some turnovers.
WSU stretched it back out to seven before another Starks three with DaVonte Lacy right in his face closed it to three points with 51 seconds to go, and shortly thereafter a pair of Jared Cunningham free throws pulled OSU to within two. But the Cougs were able to put it away behind a pair of free throws from Marcus Capers.
In fact, Capers was 5-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch. Yes, you read that correctly.
It wasn't a work of art, but few things with this team are. The defense wasn't all that stingy from an efficiency standpoint, as the Beavers still had many open looks. But the zone did what it was designed to do: Keep Cunningham and OSU's other athletic players out of the lane where they can truly hurt you. Yes, Cunningham still had 23 points, but he did most of his damage at the free throw line and certainly didn't dominate. That the Cougs were able to hold their own on the glass in the meantime was gravy.
In fact, one of the more underrated storylines of the game was the job the Cougars did rebounding. I don't have the percentages in front of me right now because there is no box score anywhere, but I'd be surprised if OSU's offensive rebounding percentage was north of 35. That's certainly in the acceptable range for this team.
One other fact of note: Faisal Aden played only sparingly in the second half. Again, I can't yet tell you exactly how many minutes he played, but I'd guess it was under 15 total. He took only four shots, and apparently has been passed in Bone's rotation by Mike Ladd, who once again gave the team some valuable minutes. Aden took some bad shots and played some bad defense, and that was that. It will be interesting to see if the change is permanent.
How do you feel at this point? Satisfied with the progress?