Improved Perimeter Play Gives Cougss Weapons
The Washington St. Cougars began their season with a 88-69 victory over Eastern Washington last Saturday. While the Cougars were the favored team in the match up, the way the victory came about was rather uplifting.
Washington St.’s biggest knocks coming into the season were rebounding, free-throw shooting and defense in front court.
The vast improvements came in the rebounding category, where Brock Motum hauled in 10 and DJ Shelton added 12 of his own, along with 5 more from Mike Ladd and Junior Longrus.
With a size advantage over the Eastern Eagles, the output was expected from the larger Cougar group. It was nevertheless encouraging to see proper box-outs and a team-wide swarm to the boards on every shot attempt.
After the convincing victory there is optimism in the young season.
Let’s identify what the Cougars do well, and what needs to be improved for a successful 2012-2013 campaign.
The obvious strength of the Cougars’ offense is returning all-conference player Brock Motum. Motum took incredible strides last year that were, to say the least, unanticipated. In his 2010-2011 season Motum averaged 7.6 points and 3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game.
These numbers were likely deflated by the offensive focus on future NBA draft pick Klay Thompson along with Deangelo Casto, who also left to play overseas in Turkey.
After the departure of these two players, there was question to who would step into the leading role. Reggie Moore was an option, along with Motum and incoming freshman DaVonte Lacy. Motum took the role and ran away with it – to an astounding extent.
In his 2011-2012 season Motum averaged a conference-leading 18 points per game – along with 6.4 rebounds – in 31.5 minutes of play. These numbers awarded Brock the scoring title along with the Pac-12’s most improved player award. If he can continue to grow in the Cougar offense, the ceiling for this young team will follow in stride.
After the loss of starting point guard Reggie Moore, there seemed to be a gaping hole at the position. DaVonte Lacy is a talented scorer, but his ball-handling skills remain in question.
Mike Ladd is great off the ball and can get into the lane, but he is not necessarily the leader of the offense. Then there is Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge.
After sitting out a year due to NCAA regulations, Wooldridge was coming into his sophomore season at Washington St. as a true shooting guard. With a 6’4″ frame and a strong shooting ability, he was going to be paired with Reggie Moore as either the 2 or 3 in the offense.
However – with an offensive makeover – Woolridge has adjusted well into the starting point guard position.
With a strong preseason under his belt, Woolridge came into the season-opener with an unexpected poise and knowledge of the offense. He had zero turnovers in the exhibition against Saint Martins, while adding 10 points and 3 steals in the final outing.
Saturday was not a flashy stat line from the sophomore my any means, but he did show glimpses of driving ability and court-vision that will be necessary at his position. He also showed an encouraging chemistry with Brock Motum, one that will continue to grow with experience.
While Woolridge’s transition is still a work in progress, Lacy and Ladd came out of the gate on fire. Each had 15 points, and each showed incredible perimeter defense that will be key to keeping the paint protected.
Ladd finally is 100% healthy after wearing a cast all last season, and his offensive game has grown tremendously. Ladd was consistently getting to the hoop with ease, creating space and hitting down jump shots, along with grabbing an impressive amount of rebounds.
Lacy also expanded his game from the 3-point specialist he attempted to be last season. Lacy showcased a driving ability that is going to be huge for creating space on the outside, and adds yet another dimension to this offense.
Depth from the Bench
With all of the questions coming into the season, bench play was a key one – especially at the forward position. We all know of Motum’s abilities, and DJ Shelton is an incredible athlete on both sides of the ball.
(Which he proved Saturday)
But besides that, who could come off the bench and give solid minutes in place of these two? Junior Longrus seemed to answer that question Saturday night.
The freshman out of Oakland showed great ability in his limited minutes – putting up 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and an assist in 13 minutes of play.
Along with Longrus’ impressive play, (RS) sophomore Dexter Kernich-Drew and junior Will DiIorio gave solid minutes in their first outings. DiIorio had 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in 7 minutes while Kernich-Drew added 7 points and was 2-2 from downtown.
Along with their offensive output, the bench also continued the defensive intensity established by the starting group and held the Eagles to 34% from the field as a unit.
Arguably the most frustrating area to have issues with, the charity stripe continues to be a point of struggle for the Cougars. As a team Saturday, the Cougars went 23-of-36 (63.8%).
While this did little to affect the outcome of this game, it will certainly be an factor in closer games down the road. For a team that puts four starters with shooting ability on the floor, it is difficult to comprehend the reasoning behind these struggles.
There is little to analyze about this statistic. It typically consists of fatigue and mental focus.
Hopefully the players take it upon themselves to improve in an area that can be very crucial in the waning minutes – as we witnessed last season against UW.
Point Guard Development
This is not necessarily a weakness, not yet. But it very well could be if Woolridge does not continue to grow. While Royce was very careful with the ball in the preseason, he turned the ball over 3 times in the season opener.
Considering he only had 2 assists, the ratio is not in his favor.
This is obviously a small sample, and a transition from scorer to leader on the offense is going to consist of growing pains.
The turnovers came from sloppy cross-court passes, and were not necessarily point guard-related issues.
He showed impressive ball-handling ability, pushed the ball in transition at the appropriate times, found cutters in the lane and got to the hole when necessary.
The biggest noticeable improvement was his shot-taking mind set. One thing Reggie didn’t refrain from doing throughout his college career was take bad shots.
Often Reggie would size up his defender, and try to hit a contested jumper “in his eyes.” Woolridge did no such thing, and put an emphasis on running the offense.
While this is encouraging, his ability to convert passes into assists remains a question that will later be determined.
It is difficult to completely judge a team from only one game – especially when the game wasn’t against a formidable opponent. The Cougars looked great on both sides of the ball, but Eastern also attempted 36 shots from behind the arc.
This was largely due to the fact that the perimeter defense of the Cougars was impressive and refrained from allowing penetration.
However, it also inflates the rebounding numbers.
Shelton has great leaping ability and gets on the boards, but can he match up with a larger opponent? And Motum is incredible with the ball in his hands, but his defense has been mediocre throughout his career.
While both had good games last week, there was never a true post-threat to challenge them. This will be another area to watch as the season progresses.
The Cougars are 1-0, and as of now they seem to have improved in several areas of concern coming into the season. They have Utah Valley followed by a road game at Pepperdine. Then their true test comes with a match up against Kansas.
These next few games will give us a good idea for what is in store the remainder of the season.