Christmas Day was was largely merry for me. I got a brand new barbecue; which I've already put to good use. The little Flip Video camera the Mrs. got for me was put to good use tubing up at Snoqualmie. All in all, presents-wise, I had a really good Christmas.
Then the Cougar basketball game came on. A game in the Diamond Head Classic against a Butler team who is way down from last year's national runner up squad felt like a winnable one that could really bolster the Cougars' resume come March. My confidence was soaring, even amongst my family members who are fanatic Michigan fans and unconvinced on just how good the WSU squad is.
So imagine my disappointment when 40 minutes later, Butler had rained down the three pointers like a storm in monsoon season over New Delhi. Washington State looked beyond lost at times and Butler had an answer for every bucket WSU had to draw them within even a modicum of being considered close. The Cougars looked lost, disorganized and downtrodden for much of the game. But in a previous season where I would've been worried about this team's psyche after a loss like that, I'll explain why everything is going to be just fine.
As a quick aside before we move on, I now hate Butler. I didn't before but I do now. That team flops more than a soccer team full of Italians. I'm relatively sure I could walk up to Matt Howard, poke him in his belly fat and he'd fall down grabbing his knee. Absolutely pathetic. If anyone ever points out to you there is no flopping in American sports, point right to basketball.
Anyhow, the Cougars are a very different team this season. Not only is the roster almost completely overhauled in terms of bench depth and incoming freshman, but it's also their second year under Ken Bone. This is their second year learning Bone's defense and their second year to be conditioned for his more up tempo offense. You can see the difference in the team this year from last. Klay Thompson was scoring at this type of clip in the non-conference schedule last season, but he's doing it against better opponents this time around. On the plus side, Thompson has guys around him who are also scoring threats (Faisal Aden, Patrick Simon, Reggie Moore and Brock Motum). Although Moore can score in bunches, he's taken on more of a distribution role, operating the offense from the point guard position, a role he's fine with having.
Saying this team is better than last year's version is a gross understatement. They're improving on the floor with every game. This year's version of the Cougars have improved in one other area: their attitudes. Now, Thompson may always look a little downtrodden but that's usually just his perpetual look. What I have seen him doing a lot more of this year is fist pumping, chest bumping and actually cracking half a smile when he nails a big bucket. The guy is actually becoming more of a leader, something this team has really lacked in the last season and a half. Not only is this good for the team, this is good for Thompson as many would argue this is one quality the NBA prodigy lacked the most.
Not only is Thompson a year older, so is everyone else. They had the entire off-season to grow up together and bond in the weight room and just together during their down time. Their on court chemistry is improving and their report with each other off it can only benefit from it. They learned from their experiences at the end of last season when they absolutely tanked and lost games they could've easily won. Something tells me this team will not let the same thing happen to them two seasons in a row. What tells me that? They want to win more. You can see it in their effort after a loss (see: the Gonzaga game) and you can see it in the way they are absolutely relentless in every game.
The game tonight is a very winnable one against UCLA down at Pauley Pavilion, a place the Cougars rarely win. Winning down in Westwood would cement the Cougars as a legitimate contender for the Pac-10 title and a weekend sweep of the LA schools would do wonder for that confidence I was talking about earlier.
This team is different than last year's. They will bounce back from losing. They will contend for a Pac-10 title. And we will all be in awe at their talent and ability to bring the team back to the glory days of just a few years ago.
Last Week: 0-0
The Huskies absolutely should win this game. That's why I'm picking them. Jeez, you think I'd lead you astray like that?
Washington 81, USC 65
This is a bit of a toss up. In Westwood, the Cougs almost always lose. But the Bruins are down. The Cougs will recover, but not this quickly.
UCLA 72, Washington State 68
Good Lord Oregon is terrible.
Arizona 78, Oregon 61
Oregon State is also terrible. What's up with our neighbor to the south?
Arizona State 69, Oregon State 57
Happy New Year Cougar fans! Here's a victory!
Washington State 71, USC 59
Happy New Year Bruins fans! You're gonna lose. Sorry to mislead you like that.
Washington 83, UCLA 72
I'm legitimately wondering if Oregon will win a conference game all season.
Arizona State 65, Oregon 55
Rivalry game! And it's not even televised outside of the Bay Area!
California 65, Stanford 60
Once again, even if you're the president's brother-in-law, the Secret Service can't help you here.
Arizona 78, Oregon State 71
Obscure Pick of the Week: One school is from a tiny state. The other is from a really weird part of Utah. So, this should be fun!
South Dakota State 65, Southern Utah 59
Dunderhead of the Week: Whoever decided stopping halfway down a tubing lane at Snoqualmie in a blind spot from the top of the hill was a good idea. I'll be calling them to come over and take care of my knee after it got absolutely destroyed.
And, of course, John Buccigross.
+++++++sponsored by Greg Davis Sports Photography+++++++++
The 2010 athletic season is here…and you know what that means…It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Men's hoop, women's hoop and baseball, just to name a few, are preparing for their 2010 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.