COMMENTARY: A Simon sighting

PATRICK SIMON

SOMETHING UNEXPECTED happened during the Cougs' first-round NIT win over Long Beach State on Thursday. No, it wasn't a Klay Thompson scoring onslaught, a DeAngelo Casto blockfest or a Faisal Aden blitzkrieg from downtown. It was Patrick Simon. On the court.

Simon, who averaged 8 minutes a game in the first 11 Pac-10 contests this season, was riding the pine for the final eight -- he averaged 1 minute and 15 seconds of PT down the stretch in conference games, and in three of those battles he never got off the bench.

So it was surprising to see the Pride of Ephrata early against Long Beach State. He came in at the 12-minute mark of the first half and immediately corralled a steal and hit Faisal Aden on a nifty fast-break outlet. He then harassed his man into a turnover (with a little help from Brock Motum).

Next he pulled down an offensive rebound. Then a defensive rebound. He set a screen that effectively took out two guys, leading to a Motum dunk off a Reggie Moore assist.

All in just under three minutes.

Not bad for a guy who was seeing playing time for the first time in three games. But Simon came out after he committed a foul and never got back in.

All of which prompts an age-old question: What's a guy gotta do?

SIMON HAS SOME shortcomings, for sure. He's not the fastest cat on the planet and his defense won't be confused for Marcus Simmons' or Jorge Gutierrez'. On offense, he might be a little too one dimensional as a scorer.

At the end of the day, though, he obviously hasn't done enough in practice or games for Ken Bone to increase his minutes at the expense of Motum or others.

But I'll tell you what, if Simon can continue to produce like he did Thursday, and if fellow freshman Will DiIorio does the same -- he had 3 rebounds, 4 points and 1 assist in 4 minutes of PT vs. Long Beach State -- then the outlook for the Cougars in their quest for New York is very bright indeed.

How so?

Because Bone has basically shortened his rotation to seven players. That means a lot of minutes for a handful of guys against very good competition. As USC learned last night against Virginia Commonwealth, a short rotation can lead to tired second-half legs -- especially if your opponent fires up some full-court pressure.

Getting seven minutes of very productive time out of Simon and the walk-on DiIorio may not look especially notable in the box score but it's a big bonus for the Cougs -- one that USC probably would have loved to have against VCU.

Washington State plays Oklahoma State in the second round of the NIT on Monday (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. PT). For most, all eyes will be on Klay Thompson. For me, I'm looking for the 6-8 kid from farm country to provide a breather, and maybe some spark from downtown. If he does, I'm penning in the W right now.

NOTABLE:

  • For tickets to Monday's 8:30 p.m. game in Pullman against OSU, click here. General admission seats are $15 and student tickets (yes, spring break will be over and the students back in town) are $5.

  • If the Cougars beat OSU and advance to the quarterfinals, they'll play in Pullman, as the higher seed, if the opponent is Northwestern, and on the road if the foe is No. 1 seed Boston College.

  • For the complete 2011 NIT bracket breakdown head here.
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