Washington State Cougars Are in Must-Win Mode Already

Kip ArneyCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12:  Forward DeAngelo Casto #23 of the Washington State Cougars goes up for a dunk against the UCLA Bruins in the Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Staples Center on March 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Yes, I said it. Just two games into the conference season and I'm calling tonight and Saturday's games against Oregon State and Oregon must-wins for the Washington State Cougars.

Similar to last year, the Cougars blazed through their non-conference schedule with their only losses coming to ranked Kansas State back on Dec. 3, and then in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 25 in Hawaii when they lost to Butler.

However, last weekend, the Cougars visited Los Angeles and got swept by both UCLA and USC and find themselves at the bottom of the Pac-10.

Now they must face a surprising Oregon State squad who stunned Arizona last weekend in Corvallis and beat Arizona State as well to start out 2-0 in conference play.

In Los Angeles, the Cougars were exposed for their lack of physical toughness down low as UCLA was able to overcome an eight-point halftime deficit to win handily 80-71 despite 26 points from junior, Klay Thompson

Thompson and fellow junior Faisal Aden, who scored 19 of his own against the Bruins combined for 45 of the Cougars 71 points as no other Cougar scored more than eight points.

Against the USC Trojans on Dec. 31, the Cougars lost 60-56 and this time it was forward DeAngelo Casto who topped the Cougars in scoring with 18 points, the fifth time he's scored double-digits this season.

Tonight the Cougars return for their first game in Pullman since Dec. 8, when they defeated Gonzaga, 81-59.

If the Cougars want to contend for a top-three finish in the Pac-10, several things must happen.

Faisal Aden must continue to compliment Klay Thompson in the scoring category. The Cougars have lost three in a row coming into tonight and in two of those games, Aden has been held under double-digits, including a season-low four points against USC.

The junior is averaging over 15 points a game, good for seventh in the conference and has provided relief and open shots for Thompson who's averaging 22 points a game—11th in the country.

Brock Motum needs to play more. I'm unsure of why a guy who is eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage is only getting to play 18 minutes a night while averaging eight points.

Just a true sophomore, the 6'10" Motum has shown soft touch around the basket and even will shoot the occasional three pointer (five of 10 on the season). Against USC he played just eight minutes and had no points on no field goal attempts.

Reggie Moore needs to return to last year's form. Moore began the year on the bench with a wrist injury that sidelined him for five games and when looking at the season stats of his two years at Washington State side by side, the numbers aren't too far apart.

His points have dropped from 12.7 to 7.7 a game but that's understandable due to Aden's arrival. However, his field goal and free throw percentages have dropped, especially his field goal percentage as he's shooting just 35 percent compared to last year's 42 percent from the floor.

It's more of an eyeball test with Moore. I just don't see the flair and creativity that he brought last year. However, I will give him credit for an attempted dunk he tried against UCLA and undoubtedly would've gotten on SportsCenter's top 10 had it not been for UCLA's Josh Smith blocking it at the rim.

Just showing that no fear attitude makes me believe that he is still the Reggie Moore of last year, but needs to bring it to the court night in and night out.

Also, Moore has gotten himself in some hot water recently as he was arrested back on Dec. 11, on charges of marijuana possession and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

Since the report states he was carrying less than 40 grams, both offenses are classified as misdemeanors. They do require a mandatory sentence of one day in jail. But it's been reported that Moore will play in tonight's game against Oregon State.

Head coach Ken Bone released a statement yesterday saying, "This is a team matter that we take very seriously. We initially learned about this incident Dec. 12, and at this time we have dealt with, and are still dealing with the issue. We will take further appropriate action if necessary.”

The Beavers come into tonight's game tied for first in the conference at 2-0 and 7-6 overall. Last year against the Cougars, each team won on their home court, with the Cougars winning 65-60, and the Beavers winning 59-55.

This year the Beavers are ranked last in the conference in points allowed and field goal percentage defense giving the Cougars reason to reach the 80 points plateau, a mark they reached in seven of their first 10 games. In the past four, the Cougars are only averaging 68 points.