PULLMAN - There was a time when this would have been a recipe for trouble. Sixteen-point advantage all but wiped out, starting point guard on the bench with a bum ankle, and the fate of a season hanging in the balance. "It shows our maturity, said DeAngelo Casto in the wake of Washington State's big win over USC Thursday. "Last year we might have keeled over but this year guys are more confident."
One of those guys is DeAngelo Casto himself. The 6-8 junior from Spokane had yet another phenomenal evening. He recorded his second straight double-double, putting up 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cougs to an 85-77 win over the Trojans in front of 7,126 crimson partisans who still have post-season hopes on their minds.
WSU is now 19-10 overall and 9-8 in conference play. USC, which had been hotter than a pistol coming into the contest, is 17-13 and 9-8.
Casto shot a mind-numbing 10-of-11 from the field, dished two assists, blocked a shot, and did a nice job defending potent USC post-man Nikola Vucevic.
He was a picture of stability in what turned into a donnybrook of a game in the second half after the Cougs had gone to intermission with a 16-point lead.
"It's not just a game tonight or last week against the Huskies or the week before," WSU head coach Ken Bone said of Casto. "He's been doing this all through the Pac-10 season. I think he'll be all
Pac-10 but I wouldn't even be shocked if he was first-team All-Pac-10. He's done a great job."
Casto was matched up with a future NBA forward in Vucevic. Casto and Vucevic were battling down low throughout the entire night but Casto had the upperhand. Vucevic finished with a team high 22 points and 11 rebounds, but was 8-of-17 from the floor.
"I like to play hard and it's more fun to play someone who's real good and the competition is high when the stakes are high," Casto said. "Those are always games I want to play well in."
With March Madness dreams on life support for both teams, this truly was a must-win game. For everyone concerned.
And with seven minutes remaining in the final period, it looked for all the world like USC was the team of destinty. That's when Donte Smith hit a three to bring the Trojans within one at 60-59.
The Cougs didn't succumb to the onslaught.
"There were a number of possessions where things were slipping away a little bit," Bone said. "They'd hit a bucket but we'd come right back and were able to score."
As much of a roller-coaster ride the evening was, one the main storylines was that point guard Reggie Moore landed awkwardly on his right ankle after missing an 18-foot jump shot in the first half and left the game. The Seattle native hopped off the court, went straight into the locker room, and did not return to action. Bone said his status for UCLA this Saturday at 2:30 pm is in the air.
"I know at halftime they were putting a boot on him and he had sprained his ankle, landed on another guy's foot," Bone said. "Other than that I know nothing, other than it's in a boot which I don't like to see but that's where it's at."
When Moore went down, the Cougars were up 14-7 and junior Marcus Capers took over the ball handling duties for WSU. The Cougars offense didn't seem to sputter whatsoever and went into the break with a 41-26 lead. However Moore's absence was clear in the second half when USC started its run.
With the score 53-37 with 13:02 left in regulation, back-up PG Dre' Winston Jr. entered. However the true freshman turned the ball over on his first touch, leading to a lay-in by USC's Maurice Jones. On the next trip down the court, Winston Jr. forced a fade-away jumper that missed long and was rebounded by USC. Twenty-four seconds later Winston Jr. made his return to the bench.
Capers and Klay Thompson took care of the ball-handling duties for the Cougars when Moore was out, but it was clear during the final 20 minutes that Moore was needed on the court if the Cougars want to make a run in the Pac-10 tournament.
"It's a devastating loss and hopefully he'll be back, rest it up, ice it up and hopefully he's back on his feet soon because we need him out there," Casto said.
On top of Casto, the Cougars also got 20-point nights from Thompson (22) and Faisal Aden(20). Aden had one of this better performance in conference play, going 8-of-14 from the floor and adding five rebounds. The Somalian native also played 35 minutes, the second most (36 at Stanford) he's played in conference play.
Ironically, the last time Aden scored 20 points was at Stanford where Moore also wasn't in the line-up. Bone joked during his post-game interview that maybe Aden just doesn't enjoy playing with Moore, but Aden quickly put to rest that assumption when asked after the game.
"No that's not it at all," Aden said with a smile. "I love playing with Reggie. I just feel more comfortable when I'm on the floor more, that's the best way you could put it."
The Cougars must now get ready for this Saturday's showdown with the UCLA Bruins at 2:30 p.m. The Bruins are coming off a 70-63 loss to Washington, and will look to beat the Cougars for the second time this season (80-71 on Dec.29). The Cougars know they must get another home win if they wan't to go dancing, and the focus is as high as it's been all season.
"We want to go to the dance," Aden said. "We want to go to the tournament and everyone's focused. Everybody knows these are the last games and we're playing like there's no tomorrow."