PULLMAN - When DeAngelo Casto limped off toward the locker room late in the game Saturday after writhing in pain on the floor for some time, Washington State's chances of winning the afternoon contest - or, arguably, any other game this season - appeared to be in dire jeopardy.
Soon, however, Casto returned to action. More importantly, Casto took action, as he quickly scored on a tip-in and then slammed home a thunderous two-hand dunk to give WSU the lead for good in a 75-71 triumph over the California Golden Bears before 7,640 at Friel Court.
“He’s a tough kid, and he wants to be out there,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said.
Bone’s comment might have been extended to every player on the floor. Both teams struggled in the first half in particular – “It was not a real pretty game,” Bone said – but Bone and California coach Mike Montgomery had no complaints about the amount of sweat produced by their players.
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“I thought it was a pretty courageous effort (by the Bears),” Montgomery said.
The same could be said for Casto, who quickly recovered from the turned right ankle he suffered after getting legs tangled up with Cal’s Richard Solomon.
Casto scored seven of his 14 points in the last five minutes. The late burst included the go-ahead dunk with 4:17 left and a three-point play Casto completed after taking time to give the salute sign to the WSU student section before he buried his free throw with 2:53 to go.
“He’s tough,” said Brock Motum, who led the Cougars (17-8, 7-6 Pac-10) with a career-high 19 points in a fine performance. “Not many things are going to keep him out of a big game like this.”
Casto, a junior post player out of Spokane, sank 5 of 6 shots after going 10-for-11 Thursday against Stanford.
“He was very impressive the last two games,” Bone said, “and not just shooting and scoring. He battles and fights and defends and rebounds.
“I think he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Bone also had high praise for Motum, who banged bodies down low against a physical Cal team. Motum came off the bench after starting two games in place of Abe Lodwick.
California, already short on depth and experience, played without standout freshman guard Allen Crabbe.
Crabbe, who suffered a concussion Thursday at Washington, scored 30 points in last month’s overtime win against WSU. In Crabbe’s place, Montgomery started Jeff Powers, a freshman walk-on who had played in just four games and scored only six points before scoring 13 at Washington.
Powers, who dreamed of playing for the Bears as a child, delivered 14 points in 31 minutes. He only became eligible at the semester break after giving up a full ride at Denver (where he redshirted) to transfer to Cal last January.
Montgomery said he tried to relax Powers prior to his first college start.
“I said, ‘Look, you’re in Pullman; nobody’s going to know what happened,’” Montgomery said. “I was joking!”
Gutsy Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez, who missed his first nine field-goal attempts, scored all 19 of his points in the second half for California (13-12, 6-7). Harper Kamp added 17 points, nine rebounds and seven turnovers.
Gutierrez got a good look at a 3-pointer that would have tied the game in the final seconds, but the ball bounced in and out.
“That broke my heart,” Powers said.