By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — All eyes, seemingly, are on Washington State forward Brock Motum.
Or, at least, more eyes than before.
As the team’s leading scorer — his 17.2 points per game are second-most in the Pac-12, behind only Jared Cunningham of Oregon State (18.0) — Motum is starting to receive more and more attention as the top performer on a struggling Cougars team.
He’s playing a bit more, too, and that trend will likely continue today when the Cougars travel to Oregon State (15-8, 5-6 Pac-12) for a 7 p.m. game in Corvallis.
Without Faisal Aden, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Motum is now the team’s lone go-to scorer. He’s responded to Aden’s absence with games of 34 points (a career high against Arizona State), 26 points (win over USC) and 25 points (loss to UCLA), and that’s in addition to a 26-point game against Oregon State earlier this season and a 27-point outing against Utah, plus 27 points in a non-conference win over Santa Clara.
And the more the Cougars (12-11, 4-7) rely on Motum to score, the more time he spends on the floor. After averaging 29.9 minutes per game in non-conference play, Motum has average 34.2 minutes of playing time in each Pac-12 contest, going the entire 40 against UCLA on Saturday.
“We need him on the court as much as possible,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “If he can be out there and we can manage the game to where he can be out there, then we need to do that, because he’s definitely one of our better players.”
“The preseason prepares you pretty well for the length of the season,” Motum added. “We’ve still got eight or nine games left. I’m good.”
As Motum goes, so do the Cougars. But the problem, at times, is that even if Motum does go, the Cougars might not. In the five high-scoring Motum performances mentioned above, the Cougars have just a 2-3 record.
Can his teammates step up and help him out? Motum has never wavered in his belief that yes, they can.
“I’m fine with it,” Motum said of being the focal point of WSU’s offense with Aden sidelined. “It gives the opportunity for other guys to step up, and they can fill some pretty big shoes that he left.”
Freshman guard DaVonte Lacy, who Bone said is probable to play tonight with a left ankle sprain, said nobody expected Motum to come alive the way he has this season. But the Cougars are going to ride it as long as they can, especially since opposing defenses have yet to make it particularly difficult to get Motum the ball.
“I would just say teams are more focused on him than before,” said Lacy, who, with Aden out, is the team’s second-leading available scorer at 9.4 points per game. “He’s still going to get his money if we get him the ball. If they double down, we’ve got shooters on the outside.”
They’ve got one more than they planned on heading into last week’s games. Junior guard Mike Ladd made a somewhat surprising return from a right thumb injury to play 55 minutes total against USC and UCLA, and appears poised to maintain a key role in the rotation.
Ladd has made just 7 of 22 from 3-point range this season, and Bone said his thumb injury — which is on his shooting hand — may be affecting his confidence from outside. If he can regain some measure of that long-range acumen — Ladd shot 38.1 percent from outside as a sophomore at Fresno State — it could help take some pressure off Motum and stretch opposing defenses.
Still, the Cougars know where their proverbial bread is buttered.
“No one came into the season thinking he was going to be who he was and score like he is,” Lacy said of Motum. “So we’re just taking advantage of it as long as we can.”