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The emergence of Casto

Last year, the one missing piece of the puzzle (although, in fairness, I don't think there was any way we would have made it past UNC), was a shot-blocking power forward, a la Ivory Clark. We needed some athleticism in our low post defense - and while Robbie Cowgill did well, it wasn't quite as good as the combo of Cowgill and Clark the year before.

Enter DeAngelo Casto, when our defense needs him the most. Caleb Forrest is a good player to line up at PF, but despite being a good offensive rebounder, Forrest seems to struggle getting boards at the other end. Daven Harmeling has the height to play at either forward position, but is not a good defensive matchup at all against players like Lawrence Hill and Austin Daye.

Casto brings some great things to the table, with the only downside being that he's a freshman and still needs to complete the adjustment to D-1 college basketball. He's already a fan favorite, based primarily on his defense and shot-blocking ability at the rim (including the play that sealed the deal for us last night). Offensively, he is a little raw and struggles to finish at the basket. But he doesn't necessarily need to do his damage by field goals. Of his six points last night, four came from the free throw line. And while he's not the best shooter from there (58.8%), he will have plenty of opportunities over the next four years to improve.

And consider this: Casto is third on the team in total rebounds, despite being seventh in minutes played. There was a considerable rebounding advantage for Stanford in the first half - that disappeared in the second half, and part of the reason was Casto. (Also helping: the Cougs actually making their shots) Casto also protected the ball well, with zero turnovers. He needs to get better about not fouling - a problem shared by Baynes and Clark when they started out too. For the time being, Casto is a great addition to the lineup. I might even go as far as saying he should start a game or two.

Rochestie's back

Not that he really went anywhere, but Taylor Rochestie has done some great things offensively in the last two games. He was our CougCenter player of the game last night, with 21 points. A stat made more impressive by the fact that it was 38% of the team's total scoring. Rochestie didn't necessarily shoot the ball well (6/15, 1/3) but he did the one thing I've wanted him to do the most this year: get to the line. He nailed eight of nine free throw attempts; on foul shots alone he would have been the third highest scorer for WSU in this game. His overall line was ridiculous: 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 turnover. Vintage Rochestie.

Rochestie also redeemed himself for the missed layup at the end of the overtime game against Stanford last year. He did it by making an even tougher shot - a runner off the glass with 17 seconds remaining. One of the things Taylor was noted for coming out of Tulane was his ability to come through in the clutch. That aspect of his game has never really materialized at WSU, with the exception being that Taylor has consistently nailed his free throws down the stretch. I'm still waiting for that 3-pointer to win at the buzzer, but for now I'm happy with what he did last night.

Klay Thompson: the anti-freshman

Klay Thompson is quickly becoming my favorite player on the team. Even without the best shooting night, he managed to change the game with his dunk over Mitch Johnson, and defended well down the stretch. The one thing you notice is that he's incredibly composed. It's like Kyle Weaver, only unlike Weaver, who played almost too loose at times, Thompson hardly ever seems to break his level of intensity. Look at his reaction to his dunk: Casto was going crazy, the crowd likewise, and Thompson just had a little grin on his face and did a little jump-bump with Rochestie. That's probably the most emotion he's ever shown on the court - and that's a good thing.

Why? Because our freshmen never seem to let emotions get the best of them. Casto is fiery, but he hasn't let it affect him on the court (yet). Thompson plays at the same, high-intensity level, all the time. Lodwick had the guts to shoot a late three that could've broken the game open. Down the stretch, Tony went with this lineup: Rochestie, Thompson, Lodwick, Casto and Baynes. That's three freshmen, two true, being asked to come through in a high pressure situation. Like I said last night, four or five years ago this game would have likely ended in a loss. But now, thanks to those two seniors and a group of composed freshmen, they made the plays they needed to down the stretch. A welcome change from some of our early second half collapses.

Abe Lodwick: The new Harmeling?

One of the more surprising developments in 2009 has been the sudden disappearance of Daven Harmeling. In the three Pac-10 games this year, he is 0 for 8, and has played a combined total of 38 minutes. That's only 12.7 minutes per game. Remember, Daven's been a starter as recently as the Washington game.

Part of this is bad luck: threes rimming out, the alley-oop off the backboard he couldn't finish, and a lack of open shots created by his teammates. But part of it is a lack of aggressiveness on Harmeling's part, whether he means to do it or not.

So - in comes Abe Lodwick, who to the casual fan shouldn't even be attempting threes (he's 2 for 19 this year). But the readers of CougCenter know better, because Lodwick's textbook form makes him a great perimeter shooting candidate. That is, once he adjusts to the speed of the game. There's also the small sample size factor, as you wouldn't say Harmeling is a bad shooter either after missing his last eight.

Lodwick can assume Harmeling's perimeter-shooting role, in stretches. He can also rebound and defend well at 6'7". When Daven graduates, Lodwick will have to take on the Harmeling role even more so - and will probably be asked to be a more prolific scorer. That's why it's great to see him in the game now. He's getting good experience, and made a critical three to tie the game in the second half.

I would love to get the old Harmeling back, and I'm sure we haven't heard the last of him. Fortunately, for the time being, we have Abe Lodwick to provide some depth.

Looking ahead to Oregon

Like Nuss said, even though we are 1-2 in conference play, our two losses come to teams that are 6-1 combined in conference. We now head to Oregon, for by far the easiest road trip of the year. Six of our next eight are on the road, so this will be a good introduction to Pac-10 road games for our freshmen.

That's not to say it will be easy. Remember, the Bennetts actually have a losing record on the road against Oregon State (2-3), and last year's win on the road at Oregon was a landmark victory for the program. OSU will still be a challenge, now that they have a coach in Craig Robinson who has brought a Bennettesque pace to Corvallis. It's a game that could very well finish in the 40s if the Cougs don't bring their offense. Fortunately, Taylor Rochestie dominated the Beavs with 24 points last Spring. We'll need that kind of effort from him once again.

Oregon is reeling. 0-4 in conference, and I really believe on the brink of firing Ernie Kent, although probably not until the end of the season. They've lost every Pac-10 game by double digits, except for UCLA, where they only fell by nine. They are still somewhat dangerous, but the fact that Ernie Kent played ten (count 'em, ten) different players for 14 minutes or more in their last game tells me that the Ducks haven't figured out who is going to lead them this year. But Michael Dunigan is a good prospect in the post, and Tajuan Porter is still jacking up threes from the perimeter. They still have one of the best home courts in college basketball.

We can't take either opponent lightly.