Brock Motum led Washington State in scoring for the second straight game, and the Cougars improved to 2-0 by overwhelming a second straight opponent in a 72-49 romp over Utah Valley on Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum.
“We can’t control what other people think of us,” Motum said. “But as a team, if we keep improving inside the locker room and get the confidence, I think (progress) will be made.”
The Cougars are a consensus pick to finish toward the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference standings, but WSU has thoroughly outplayed Utah Valley and Eastern Washington. The Cougars opened the season Saturday with an 88-69 rout of Eastern.
“It’s still early,” Motum cautioned. “We’ve played two games. I think the majority of the country might still be undefeated right now, so it (being 2-0) doesn’t mean anything until we keep improving in areas we want to improve on. That’s what we focus on as a team.”
WSU HEAD MAN Ken Bone constantly pushes the Cougars to improve on the boards. WSU has won the rebounding battle in both games, and junior forward D.J. Shelton has led all players in rebounds in each contest.
“That’s kind of what I focus on, getting in there and being a tough guy, get as many rebounds as I can,” Shelton said.
Shelton, who attended four high schools in four years and three colleges in three years (redshirting as a true freshman at Cal State Fullerton before playing at a California junior college), has finally stayed put two straight years. Perhaps that has something to do with the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder’s improved skills on the offensive end.
In addition to his 18 rebounds in the first two games (including six Wednesday), Shelton has scored six points each game. Both of his field goals against Utah Valley (1-2) came on nice moves inside.
“I’m working on slowing my game down, focusing on my moves, trying to draw contact and just go up strong,” said Shelton, the nephew of former NBA star Lonnie Shelton. The past week, I’ve been focusing on just getting my defender in the air and finishing and being patient.”
MOTUM (15 points), Mike Ladd (13) and DaVonté Lacy (11) all scored in double figures for the second straight game. Lacy added a career-high six assists, and another sophomore wing, Dexter Kernich-Drew, scored a career-high 14 points.
“Dex did a great job coming off the bench,” Bone said.
The Cougars hit more than 50 percent of their shots for the second straight game, and they had just five turnovers.
“Five turnovers is very good, no matter who you play against,” Bone said.
THE COUGARS NOW play their first three road games before returning home Saturday, Nov. 24 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (12:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
WSU visits Pepperdine (0-2) in picturesque Malibu, Calif., at 7 p.m. Friday in the Cougars’ only non-televised game of the year. The Cougars then head to Kansas City, Mo., on Monday and Tuesday for the pre-determined “Final Four” of the College Basketball Experience (CBE) Hall of Fame Classic. WSU’s first two games were also part of the Classic.
The Cougars emphasized they’re not looking past Pepperdine, but they’re well aware that seventh-ranked Kansas awaits them on Monday on national television (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Jayhawks return three starters from the team that lost to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game last season.
“We haven’t talked about Kansas yet, but it’s something that’s on our mind,” Shelton said. “I feel like we’ve got a good chance to go in there and upset them.”
After playing Saint Louis or Texas A&M on Tuesday, the Cougars’ eight remaining pre-conference contests will be home games (counting Buffalo in Seattle and Idaho State in Kennewick). The Cougars open Pac-12 play at home Jan. 5 versus Washington.
SPEAKING OF KANSAS, Royce Woolridge, who redshirted at WSU last season after seeing little action as a freshman at Kansas, had another solid game Wednesday. In 27 minutes, the point guard totaled five points, six assists, two steals and just one turnover.
“I think he’s evolving really well,” Motum said. “It’s still early in the season, but six assists and one turnover is a pretty good ratio. He’s attacking the rim. The defense is starting to sag in because of the threat to score, then he can pick his poison out of that.”
THREE NEW COUGS, as expected, signed yesterday on the first day of college basketball's early signing period: – Josh Hawkinson, Ikenna Iroegbu and Tanner Lancona.
“Josh will be a great asset to the team,” Bone said. “He is an extremely skilled passer that has the ability to shoot from the perimeter. In addition, he’s a tremendous student and we look forward to helping him continue to develop.”
“Ike is a very athletic and quick combo guard who we hope can make an immediate impact here at WSU,” Bone said. “He’s a good shooter and scorer and great in transition. We enjoyed having his older brother, Chuks, here as a walk-on last season and know he’s a great young man from an outstanding family.”
“Tanner will be another good addition to our frontcourt as a stretch-four,” Bone said. “At 6-8 he can shoot the three, but he is also skilled in the paint. His ability to pass the ball shows what good of a feel he has for the game.”
George Hill, who helped Kingston High School take third at the State 2A tournament in 2010-11, has joined the Cougars as a walk-on.
A 6-foot-3 wing, Hill was the lone survivor of walk-on tryouts this year after being cut at the tryouts last season.
“I’m not sure how bright he is, because he says he wants to be a coach,” Bone joked. “He might need some psychological help. But other than that, he’s a good kid. You know what? He’s a pretty good player. He’s going to be a really good walk-on for us, so we’re excited about that.”=