Very happy charts for your Sunday morning:
Finally, WSU puts together a full forty minutes.
The Cougs are a very good offensive team when they do two things: shoot the ball well and rebound. Last night, for the first time in what feels like ages, they flat out dominated an opponent on the boards. That wasn't so surprising on the defensive end, where the Wildcats struggle to get second chance opportunities. It was surprising, however, that the Cougs so thoroughly dominated U of A on the offensive glass. ASU is a solid, if not spectacular, team at pulling down defensive rebounds. A lot of that is due to Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne, whose combined impact just wasn't that strong in this game. Horne finished with only two total rebounds in 24 minutes.
The real story, of course - after Nuss and I spent the last two days picking it apart - is the team defense. This was as great a Cougar defensive effort as we've seen this season, and it came at a time we desperately needed it. While we're not big fans of the 2-3 zone, the important thing is that WSU committed to it and closed out on open shooters. Regardless of playing man-to-man or zone last night, WSU pressured the ball and kept ASU from attacking the basket and drawing fouls. Nic Wise had virtually no impact on this game, which is nothing short of spectacular. If you had bet me $10,000 on Friday that Nic Wise and Brock Motum would finish with the same point total in this game, I would've taken it in a blink of an eye, and then laughed at you for giving your money away.
So let's talk about Motum, and the bigs - which came up huge in this game for the Cougs. Motum and BigBabyBjorn (I'm trying to get that nickname to catch on) played significant minutes in the first half, and Motum did the same again in the second. Coach Bone said after the game that Abe Lodwick was feeling "under the weather", which is why he ended up with a DNP. The result was a coaching move out of semi-desperation that not only worked, but worked well. Motum and Bjornstad not only held their own; they made an impact. Bjornstad registered a block, and Motum (in 17 minutes!) went 4 of 6, scored 10, grabbed and offensive board, dished an assist and most importantly never turned it over. The strides Motum have made in practice must be substantial - he's always been able to hit jumpers, but last night he was able to score inside off passes from the guards. He even got to the foul line. Again, that magical big man we need isn't walking through the door, but the potential of Motum developing into it is extremely exciting.
I'd be completely out of my mind, though, to downplay DeAngelo Casto's performance in this game. 19 and 9 with 3 blocks no 8 of 13 shooting. Just ridiculous. Part of me wonders if Arizona is just soft in the middle, but I think they're not so much soft as they are young. Natyazhko, Williams, Parrom and Hill are all freshmen. For obvious reasons we match up well against that. D is the secret motor behind this team. Klay and Reggie can be penciled in for 10+ points on any given night, but when Casto is on fire than this team is very hard to stop. Not to mention his obvious contributions on defense. In fact, after picking up a quick first foul, Casto played good defense the remainder of the game without fouling (often). Which is pretty refreshing.
No discussion of the bigs would be complete without mentioning Watson's silky smooth jumper (probably why Bennett liked him so much) and 3 rebounds in only 6 minutes, and Koprivica (who isn't really a big) snatching 5 boards in 20 minutes. In fact all the guards rebounded well - Reggie with 6, Klay with 3, Capers with 2.
One more thing before the awards: I was surprised that down the stretch, when Ken Bone knew defense would be the difference between a blown lead and a victory, we stayed in the zone. Not only that, Marcus Capers was on the bench and Xavier Thames was out on the floor. We all know Capers is a solid defender, so I have to believe the reason for this lies in the idea that Thames is a better fit for the zone defense. Interesting. I certainly enjoyed the results, given with how well we closed this game and forced Arizona to burn clock and take jumpers inside the arc.
Player of the Game: DeAngelo Casto. Again, 19 points on 8/13 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, only one turnover. Something about Arizona brings out the best in D.
Unsung Hero: Brock Motum. I'm so happy I can give this award out to Motum, and I'm shocked and excited it was in a Pac-10 game. That we won. 10 points on 4/6 shooting, a board, an assist, and no turnovers. He's suddenly making the AIS to NCAA transition look a lot easier than it should.
It was over when... Reggie's three-point play off the steal put the Cougs up 18 with 1:45 to play. It might've been over before that, but I've learned not to take anything for granted in Pullman.
Play of the Game: Tie tonight. First, Motum's dunk in the first half off a beautiful assist from Klay Thompson. Second, Nik's three to put the Cougs up 11 with 4:18 to play. Hard to believe it was a six point game with just over 5 to play.
Stat of the Game: The 32-23 rebounding advantage for WSU. If you're into advanced stats, the Wildcats had a stretch of 8 straight games with over 100.0 offensive efficiency prior to traveling to Washington this weekend. The Huskies held them to 90.2, and we held them to 93.8. However, where UW only had a 97.5 efficiency night against the U of A defense, the Cougs went off for 121.9. Good times.