Christian Caple of the Spokesman-Review was good enough to answer five questions about the Cougars heading into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener for each team. Here are Caple’s thoughts:
1. Washington State is again relying heavily on Brock Motum. What are defenses trying to do to slow down the lefty from Australia?
He’s seen some double teams, but a lot of WSU’s nonconference opponents have been so overmatched across the board that they’ve played zone to try to keep the Cougars — and Motum, specifically, by default — out of the paint. A quick glance at the statistics will show that hasn’t worked real well. The one game that comes to mind is Buffalo, which pushed and pounded him throughout an ugly game. Motum finished with 15 that night, relatively low for him. I’d imagine defenses will be more creative (and certainly more capable) now that conference play has arrived.
2. Who has been there to help Motum? DaVonte Lacy is the only other player in double figures. Does Motum need more help?
He does, and DaVonte Lacy has been that guy a couple of times. I think they probably thought they’d rely on senior guard Mike Ladd to carry a bit more of the scoring load than he has, but with Reggie Moore’s dismissal, Ladd has taken over the primary point guard duties — Royce Woolridge plays mostly two-guard now — so his scoring role isn’t going to be as prominent. He did have 17 the other night, though, and gives a spark sometimes when Motum can’t quite get it going. I think they’d probably like to get a little more out of D.J. Shelton, as well as guys like Dexter Kernich-Drew off the bench.
3. The Cougars have won seven of eight, with the only loss a two-point defeat against Gonzaga. How much weight would you put on this recent run?
They certainly appear as if they’re improving, but like Bone points out frequently, their schedule ain’t exactly murderer’s row. But it is worth noting that three of WSU’s four losses have come by two or fewer points. Two of those losses, to Texas A&M and Gonzaga, were decided by a final shot. So while I don’t know if much stock can be put into a streak that includes wins over Jackson State, Buffalo and Idaho State, maybe there’s something to the fact that the Cougars had a chance to win all but one of the games they’ve played this year.
4. Point guard play was a concern coming into the season. How has it been?
All things considered, it’s been decent. Ladd has never played point guard in his life, save for a time or two in youth ball growing up. Even in high school, he was alongside Reggie Moore at Rainier Beach. So it’s been an adjustment for him. But it’s telling that everyone thought Royce Woolridge would be the guy to fill that void, and it’s been Ladd whom the coaches have relied upon. He’s a senior, he’s a captain, that kind of thing. He’s smart with the ball and handles it well enough to initiate the offense, though he’s not likely to wow you with playground passes or anything like that. More than anything, he’s a responsible, calm player whose decision-making can be trusted. As mentioned earlier, the Cougars still need Ladd to score, too.
5. Washington State plays at the second-slowest pace in the conference. Why such a methodical approach?
For one, Brock Motum is their first, second and third priority offensively, and while he runs the floor decently well for a 6-foot-10 player, he’s not a guy who is going to get his points in transition. He needs to get the ball in a halfcourt set and go to work. So it stands to reason that WSU would be a little more methodical offensively with Motum as the focal point. That, and the Cougars really don’t have a ton of speed or explosiveness. They’re better off slowing things down a bit and running their stuff.