SEATTLE -- His shoot-first mentality has made him a lightning rod for fans at times. But if Thursday night’s annual foray into Key Arena -- a 67-56 win against Pepperdine in front of 9,831 fans -- was any indication, the Cougars might need senior guard Faisal Aden to assert himself on offense.
Aden (concussion) and senior forward Abe Lodwick (foot), both of whom were slated to start this season, have come off the bench lately as they look to establish themselves in the rotation coming off injuries.
WSU (8-4), which has won six straight games, built its success after a disastrous three-game stretch at the 76 Classic from Nov. 24-27 in Anaheim, Calif., through distributing the ball. There was a concern -- one that likely won’t be alleviated after Thursday -- that Aden’s presence might disrupt their offensive chemistry.
That was not a problem -- at least early -- as Aden seemed to be WSU’s only source of offense. The Cougars opened with several consecutive misses before Aden and Lodwick entered with 16:16 minutes left in the first half.
After watching his first circle the rim several times before falling short, Aden scored the Cougars’ first points on a 3-pointer at the 14:59 mark. And he did not stop there.
Aden scored 13 of his game-high 17 points to help WSU build a 26-15 lead at halftime. He made 2 of 5 3-pointers, but shot just 6 of 15 from the field. No other Cougars attempted more than nine field goals.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I do,” Aden said. “I can’t change anything. I’ve been successful this far. It would be weird to change my whole philosophy as a senior.
“I’ve got to keep being aggressive and help my team win.”
Aden clarified that does not mean being “crazy” by constantly taking low-percentage shots. But he said that sometimes will be the case without the presence of wing Klay Thompson, who averaged 21.6 points per game last season before forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. Thompson now plays with Golden State.
“I’ve been the focus of other guys’ defense for all of my life except for when we had Klay,” Aden said.
Bone agreed that Aden’s presence will be vital to the success of the Cougars, who open Pac-12 play Thursday against Oregon in Spokane.
“He’s the best scorer on our team and is a great shooter,” Bone said. “What we’re trying to do is educate our guys on time and score.”
That means not consistently taking low-percentage opportunities early in the shot clock.
“Just back off and be patient,” Bone said. “Last year, (Aden) went through the same thing but by the time we got into mid-January, he was really good in that area. I think he’ll get to that spot again.”
Aden gave WSU a 49-27 lead with 11:45 remaining and it appeared that the Cougars would come away with a dominant victory. But the Waves (6-5) reduced their deficit to single-digits in the waning minutes.
WSU COACH KEN BONE, it felt too similar to the three-game losing streak in the 76 Classic. WSU lost 64-63 against UC Riverside in its final game of the tournament.
“We showed against Riverside that a 14-point lead doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Bone said. “We need to be able to sustain good defense for 40 minutes.
He said one statistic that reflected that was Pepperdine’s 15 offensive rebounds. WSU had more overall rebounds (40 to 38) than the Waves.
“I thought we got content with the lead and we’re not good enough to do that in Pac-12 play,” Bone said. “That part is disappointing.”
With the exception of the final eight minutes, Bone said he was pleased with the Cougars’ defensive effort. Pepperdine shot just 23 percent from the field during the first half and 36 percent for the contest.
“I thought we played very good defense,” Bone said. “We were intense and executed very well in knowing what they’re trying to achieve.”
Aden, who frequently has been criticized for his defensive performance, knows that a better effort on that end might result in his desired ascension back into the starting lineup.
“I think I can be one of the best defenders,” Aden said. “I have quick hands and quick feet. I can be one of the best defenders if I want to be. It’s all about my mindset and how I approach it.”
Bone praised his team’s ability to recover for their 2-4 start.
“I’m really proud of the guys that we were able to bounce back,” he said. “A couple of wins were really good and showed what we’re capable of doing.”
Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar sat courtside for the game. Other notable attendees included former Pepperdine standout Doug Christie, a Seattle native who played 15 seasons in the NBA, and Daven Harmeling. The latter, who played at WSU from 2004-09, also attended Wednesday’s game between Virginia and Seattle at KeyArena.
Bone said the Cougars will take the next three days off before resuming practice Dec. 26.
WSU now has won all seven Cougar Hardwood Classic games at KeyArena.
The Cougars improved to 3-2 against Pepperdine. It marked the first meeting between the schools since WSU won 82-77 on Dec. 13, 1989.