The absence of Klay Thompson was evident at times Monday night as the Washington State Cougars fell to No. 23 Gonzaga 89-81 in their season opener.
But the departure of DeAngelo Casto was even greater.
On the first possession of the game Gonzaga was able to grab two offensive rebounds before a third shot attempt saw Kevin Pangos drain his first of nine 3-pointers. That one possession was a prelude to the entire game.
Last night, Gonzaga's Robert Sacre finished the game with 10 rebounds, despite being limited to three minutes in the first half, and teammate Elias Harris grabbed a game-high 11. Eight of their combined 21 boards came on the offensive end.
The Cougars are admittedly a perimeter oriented team, which can win them some games, but lose them even more.
The Cougars have not had a player average eight rebounds for an entire season in over 10 years. Digging a little deeper, in five of the past 10 seasons, each season has produced just one player to average more than five rebounds a game. To say the Cougars haven't had a dominant rebounder in quite some time would be an understatement.
Giving up offensive rebounds was a major problem last year as they saw their opponents grab double digits offensive rebounds in 28 of 35 games. 11 of those 28 saw their opponents grab 15 or more offensive boards. And twice the Cougars saw their opponents somehow grab more offensive rebounds then the Cougars could grab defensive rebounds themselves.
The Cougars lost their top two rebounders from last season in Thompson and Casto and their top returning statistical rebounder is Marcus Capers who averaged just under four and a half a game.
In my opinion, rebounding makes or breaks a team. 37 of the 68 teams who made it to the NCAA Tournament last season finished in the top 100 in rebounding margin. The Cougars finished 252 out of 335 Division I teams.
To be fair, it should be noted that Virginia Commonwealth ranked 302 but still managed to advance all the way to the Final Four. But the Rams were labeled as a "Cinderella team" meaning that it was more of getting hot at the right time and they're first three opponents in the tournament, Southern California, Georgetown, and Purdue, were not part of the top 100 teams in rebounding margin.
The Pac-12 lost eight of its top 10 rebounders from last year, leaving just UCLA's Reeves Nelson and Stanford's Josh Owen to top the charts.
Wednesday night, the Cougars return to Pullman, Wash., to host Sacramento State while looking for their first win on the season. Last season, Washington State ran all over the Hornets before beating them 84-36. It was a game that saw the Cougars jump out to a 27-0 lead before Sacramento State hit their first field goal 11 minutes into the game.
Rebounding won't be a deciding factor in this game, but it would definitely be encouraging if the Cougars showed the fundamentals of boxing out and going up for rebounds instead of waiting for the ball to come to them.
Monday night's loss to Gonzaga signified the first time the Cougars have failed to start their season at least 6-0 since the 2005-2006 campaign.
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