10-Pac: Reviewing Washington State's 87-80 victory over Washington
Posted by Jerry Brewer
Ten observations from the Cougars' spirited Pac-10 triumph over a sloppy Husky basketball team:
1. Klay Thompson showed up against the Huskies -- finally. I'm not sure that some Washington fans appreciate Thompson as much as others because, entering this game, the Huskies had owned the Cougars' star guard. Thompson was 0-4 in his career against Washington and averaged only 7.3 points (10 points below his career average) in those games.
On Sunday, he finally brought his game to this rivalry.
And now, there should be no denying how talented he is.
Thompson finished with 25 points, five steals and four assists in 30 minutes. He was magnificent, especially in the second half. He made 9 of 18 shots. His only flaw was his free-throw shooting (4 of 9). This performance continued the maturation of Thompson as a big-game player.
He entered the season as a guy with a reputation for shrinking in big games. This season, however, he has performed much better. He scored 24 points against Gonzaga, 28 against Mississippi State, 20 against Baylor and 31 against Butler and 26 against UCLA. His only real flat performance against marquee competition was his 9-point effort against Arizona last week, but he contributed eight rebounds and seven assists in that game.
Because Justin Holiday got in early foul trouble, the Huskies weren't as physical with Thompson as they've been in the past. Thompson didn't score a lot early, but he was able to settle into the game because he wasn't facing an aggressive defense. At times, when Holiday didn't guard Thompson, Thompson had his way. And even when Holiday tried to lock him down later in the second half, Thompson was too hot to control.
2. Every future Washington opponent will look at film of this Cougars' defensive effort. We could also label this thought, "The Huskies Still Look Bad Against Zones." But in many Pac-10 games, Washington has been able to figure out zones and other junk defenses in time to get its offense rolling again.
Not in this game. The Huskies shot only 37.1 percent from the field. Thirty-one of their shots, exactly half of their field-goal attempts, were three-pointers. In addition, they committed 24 turnovers, and we'll talk more about that later. But the bottom line is that the Huskies alternated between impatient and indecisive in this game, all because Washington State coach Ken Bone dialed up a 2-3 zone that, at times, threw in gimmicks such as using defenders to match up with Isaiah Thomas.
It was a great defensive plan that, in other forms, teams such as Oregon and Oregon State and Arizona State have used. But the Huskies couldn't solve this one. They shot the ball well for about a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the first half. Other than that, Cougs stifled them. For a Husky team that thrives on good perimeter play, this was a discouraging sign.
3. Where was Matthew Bryan-Amaning? MBA was coming off a career-high 30-point performance against Arizona State. He was averaging 18 points and 9.6 rebounds over his last 10 games. He was playing like the best big man in the Pac-10 not named Derrick Williams.
But on Sunday, MBA was 1 for 8 from the field and scored only six points. He did grab 11 rebounds and block two shots, but his offensive game, which had been so automatic recently, fell apart. He didn't attack the basket aggressively. He settled for finesse hook shots and shied from contact.
I think he'll be fine. I think he was just due for a bad game. But it was alarming to see him fall back into some old habits.
And it wasn't just because of Cougars forward DeAngelo Casto. Casto fouled out and only played 21 minutes. Still, MBA couldn't dominate inside.
4. Twenty-four turnovers proved how befuddled the Huskies were. Entering the game, Washington was averaging only 11.9 turnovers per game this season, best in the Pac-10. The Huskies also lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. They're normally a great ballhandling team.
So their 24 turnovers provided the most puzzling, uncharacteristic stat of the game. It should be an aberration, but you never know. The Huskies' starting guards, Thomas (seven turnovers) and Scott Suggs (five), were the sloppiest of the bunch. In addition, Holiday committed four turnovers, and backup point guard Venoy Overton had three. Add it all up, and the four players who handle the ball the most for Washington combined for 19 turnovers.
That'll probably never happen again. If it does, the Huskies will lose by even more than this seven-point margin.
5. Faisal Aden is a fun player to watch. Aden, a junior-college recruit, is a difference-maker for the Cougars. If they go from decent to the Big Dance this season, he'll be one of the biggest reasons for their improvement.
He's an athletic 6-foot-4 guard who plays aggressive without being out of control. He finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in this game. He was only 6 for 17 from the field, but he seemed to play much better than that offensively.
As a sixth man, he's a deadly weapon. Don't know too many other non-starters averaging 14 points per game.
6. Washington's defense was almost as bad as its offense. While the Huskies' offense stalled in the second half, the Cougars shot their normal 48 percent for the game and also made 8 of 17 three-pointers.
If you're going to win a game when you're not shooting well, you had better play good defense. The Huskies didn't. Their bad D helped the Cougars' take an 11-point lead in the second half, and the Huskies couldn't get close enough to steal a victory at the end.
Every major Washington State player except for Aden made at least half of their shots. The Huskies are usually much better at taking something away from an opponent.
7. Venoy Overton played perhaps his worst game of the season. Overton played only eight minutes. He committed four fouls, three turnovers and was a complete non-factor. With Abdul Gaddy out, the Huskies need more consistent play from Overton. Otherwise, Thomas must carry too much of a load.
Thomas can handle a lot of responsibility, but if he's going to play 33-37 minutes now, you'd like to see him play off the ball for at least 10-12 minutes. That way, he can look to score and not have to attack defenses from the top of the key all of the time.
Thomas missed his first nine shots and finished 3 of 13 from the field. He still managed 19 points and five assists and made 11 of 12 free throws. But he got beat up pretty good in this game, and later he fouled out in the closing seconds. Thomas needs more help. And Overton is the only scholarship point guard left on the roster.
8. The Cougar role players were better than advertised. Washington State played a long stretch in the second half with both Thompson and Casto on the bench because of foul trouble. But the Huskies couldn't capitalize. The Cougar role players, a maligned group, stepped up.
If Washington State got more out of them, it would be a much better team. Everyone talks about the Cougars' lack of depth as a major problem, and it's a legitimate problem. Not in this game, though. They played with incredible energy, and with the game at Beasley Coliseum, their role guys benefited from the comforts at home.
They really only go seven players deep, with Aden and Aussie big man Brock Motum serving as the "bench." But Patrick Simon and seldom-used Charlie Enquist had decent cameos and helped the team stay fresh enough to win this track meet.
9. Storming the court has jumped the shark. Washington State fans stormed the court after this victory over a team that they gave the "Over-rated!" chant -- the worst and most unintentionally self-diminishing chant in all of sports) -- minutes earlier.
I don't think beating the No. 18 Huskies is worthy of storming the court. Yes, the Huskies did storm the field at Martin Stadium after winning the Apple Cup in December, but that was because the program broke its eight-year bowl slump.
Fans of a team with NCAA tournament aspirations shouldn't storm the court after beating the No. 18 team in the country. In this case, the Huskies should be considered a peer, not a favorite that inspires unfathomable celebration after you beat them.
The problem isn't just with these particular fans, though. Storming the court has become overused everywhere. These days, it's more about fans trying to be a part of the game than fans being so excited that they can't contain themselves.
Now, the coolest you can do after a big win is act like it's no big deal.
More fans should try that.
10. This Washington State victory is huge for their NCAA tournament aspirations. The Cougars (15-6, 5-4 in the Pac-10) needed this win badly, especially after losing a close one to Arizona last week.
Meanwhile, the Huskies (15-5, 7-2 in the Pac-10) are tied with Arizona atop the league, but of course, Washington has already beaten the Wildcats once. While the Huskies are essentially playing against their own standard, trying to be as good as they want to be, Washington State is in a much more desperate situation.
It's hard to envision the Pac-10 getting more than three NCAA tournament bids. If the Huskies and Wildcats continue to lead the way, then it'll be between the Cougs and UCLA for that last spot. Right now, the Bruins (6-3 in the Pac-10) are in third place in the conference, a game ahead of Washington State and California.
RealTimeRPI.com, one of many sites that track the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index, had UCLA's RPI at 46 and Washington State at 75 entering Sunday's competition. The Cougars have no chance at the Big Dance with a 75 RPI. UCLA is around the cut-off point. So that tells you how much work the Cougars have to do to get into the NCAA tournament conversation.
But a victory over Washington (RPI: 23) is a huge step in the right direction. It'll be interesting to check the Cougs' RPI in the morning and how much the computers respect this win.
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