Washington State Cougars Lose Reggie Moore, but Win Against USC
How many teams go diving out of bounds for a loose ball when it's 0-0 in the first minute of the game?
I haven't done the research but I know first-hand after tonight that Washington State does.
After a brutal showing down in the desert two weeks ago resulting in losses to both Arizona and Arizona State, the Washington State Cougars have followed that up with two impressive victories.
Sunday night they defeated the Washington Huskies in Seattle, the only team to do so on the Huskies' home floor.
And then tonight, they hung with a physical USC Trojan team and came out with a solid 85-77 victory to improve to 19-10 (9-8) on the season and jumped to fourth in the Pac-10.
The Cougars are currently not in the picture of the NCAA tournament but since their loss to Arizona State back on Feb. 19, the Cougars' season has become its own tournament where one loss will ultimately do them in.
Some say the Cougars only shot to reach the Big Dance is to win the Pac-10 tournament next weekend in Los Angeles and earn an automatic berth.
I was one of them. Was one of them.
Now I think they can afford only a loss in the championship game and still make it, depending on who they beat en route to that game.
But first things first, they must beat UCLA in Pullman on Saturday, an accomplishment they've not achieved since 1993.
And they might have to do it without Reggie Moore.
The sophomore guard came into tonight's game having scored double figures in 12 of his past 13 games and was slowly becoming the leader of this team. He also in 23 games, had only turned the ball over more than three times on two occasions.
But just seven minutes into tonight's game, Moore came down on a defender's foot after a missed shot attempt and laid on the ground gripping his ankle. He quickly hobbled off under his own power but went straight past the Cougar bench and into the locker room.
He did not come back out until halftime. And when he did, his right foot was in a walking boot and he did not return to the game.
Moore's absence meant someone else would need to step up.
Faisal Aden answered the call off the bench, scoring 20 points in 35 minutes.
The Cougars held a 15-point halftime lead but saw that dwindle all the way down to one with nine minutes left in the game after USC hit three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to shave off nine points in just one minute of game clock.
However, thanks in large part to Klay Thompson's 22 points, the Trojans were never able to take the lead and clutch free-throw shooting for the Cougars helped secure a crucial victory.
It was nice to see Aden, who is the leading scorer (12.6) among first year players in the Pac-10, return to early season form in Moore's absence. Aden shot 8-of-14 from the field and the 20 points were the most since he dropped 20 against Stanford back on Jan. 15.
Aden was one of six Cougars that saw themselves play regularly after Moore's departure displaying how shallow this team is. Head coach Ken Bone stuck with a six man rotation that showed great heart and resolve.
After the game was over, it was announced that forward DeAngelo Casto was named player of the game after a strong 24 point, 10 rebound performance on 10-of-11 shooting from the field against one of the better frontcourts in the Pac-10.
It was Casto's third straight double double and sixth on the season. The 24 points was also one shy of a season and career high.
But I would've given the game ball to Aden for his 10 second half points as he played all 20 minutes. This is a player who has battling knee problems all season forcing him to sit out a couple games, most recently against Arizona State just 12 days ago. Also in his previous two outings, he's scored a combined eight points on just two of 13 shooting.
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But the play of the game came with just 1:40 remaining. The Cougars were holding onto a 75-70 lead when Klay Thompson's three point shot rimmed straight up into the air. Aden was the only Cougar underneath the basket and was surrounded by three Trojans. Yet somehow the 6'4" Aden was able to use his quick hands to snatch the rebound and lay it back in to increase the lead back to seven.
He needed this night. As did the Cougars.
In their own single elimination tournament, they're perfect. They've beaten two opponents who stood high than them in the standings and now arguably the hottest team in the conference comes into town for the final regular season game.
The UCLA Bruins may have lost tonight in Seattle against the Huskies in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate but that doesn't mean they're still not on a roll. Before tonight, the Bruins had won eight of nine and just on Saturday, laid a 22-point beatdown on the then-10th ranked Arizona Wildcats.
The Bruins' present matchup nightmares in the paint for the Cougars and last meeting erased an eight point Cougar halftime lead to go on and win easily 80-71 back on Dec. 29.
In that game, UCLA's Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith combined for 29 points on 12-18 shooting and grabbed 17 of UCLA's 31 rebounds.
If the Cougars want to get that 20th victory on the season, they're going to have to show the same effort they showed tonight come Saturday that has them diving for loose balls, even if it is 0-0 in the first minute of the game.
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