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Sat., Dec. 12, 2009, 5:27 p.m.

WSU survives against Air Force


COUGARS

Well, it took longer than we said it would, but we finally have our game story ready to go. You can read the unedited version of our gamer from WSU's 75-68 win over the Air Force Academy on the link.
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• Here is the story ...

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Oftentimes, when Air Force officers travel to Spokane, they are headed to the base at Fairchild, home of the service's survival school.

There they face intense pressure, trials that stretch their limits and separate the best from the merely good.

On Saturday just down the road at the Spokane Arena, it was the Washington State University Cougars who were taught a lesson in survival. And it came, appropriately enough, at the hands of the Air Force Falcons.

The Cougars survived, holding off Air Force 75-68 in an off-campus home game before a subdued crowd of 7,024.

"At the end of the day, they've taken care of business," said WSU coach Ken Bone of the Cougars, who raised their nonconference mark to 8-2. "So even though today we did not play our best basketball ... our guys prevailed and we got the 'W', so it was good."

"We came out kind of nonchalant," said freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who posted his first career double/double with 16 points – 7 of 7 from the line – and 10 assists. "But we got the 'W'."

The bottom line was important, because how WSU got there wasn't worth bragging about.

The Falcons played without leading scorer (17.1 points per game) and rebounder (7.1) Grant Parker, a 6-foot-8 senior sidelined with a pulled groin. It didn't seem to matter much.

Freshman guards Michael Lyons, whose previous career high was 12 points, and Todd Fletcher, torched the Cougars for career-bests of 25 and 13 points, respectively. And Parker's replacement, 6-8 senior Mike McLain, also set a career high with 11 points.

And yet, despite the self-described "nonchalant" early effort, despite Klay Thompson's worst half of the season (two points on 1-of-5 shooting), despite missing all seven of their 3-point attempts, the Cougars took a seven-point lead into the locker room.

Which they quickly doubled, as first Moore – on a Thompson assist – and Thompson – on a Moore assist – hit back-to-back 3s, part of 9-0 blitz in less than 2 minutes that gave WSU its largest lead at 40-26 with 16:34 left.

But the Falcons (5-3) are survivors as well, and kept contact, mainly due to Lyons' hot hand. At one point midway through the second half, the 6-6 guard had 12 consecutive Air Force points.

And when the Falcons finally got free on three hard back cuts – Air Force runs the Princeton offense which features back-door cuts, fake screens and 3-point shooting – the lead was down to two, 57-55, with 6:49 remaining.

"Air Force did a really nice job there," Bone said. "Other than that, I thought our guys dealt with a few short runs Air Force made."

It was Moore who came to the rescue, stopping the 7-0 run – in 37 seconds – with two free throws. And, after Fletcher scored on a drive, Marcus Capers got free on a back-cut of his own, Nik Koprivica found him for a dunk and WSU was off again. The Cougars strung together two defensive stops, pairing them with a Capers "and-one" fastbreak and two more Moore free throws.

The lead was 66-57 and Air Force would never get closer than six again.

Thompson finished with 19 points – only the second time this season he hasn't gone for more than 20, the other also in Spokane in the loss at Gonzaga – and Capers added a career-best 12 points, with his 5 of 6 shooting including three dunks.

But the starters were not the whole story.

"If you compare our bench with the guys who started," Bone said, "our bench probably outperformed the kids who started. And (though) I'm not happy about that ... we do need our depth to be stronger, so I am pleased with what they accomplished."

Koprivica accomplished a career-high with 11 rebounds, Charlie Enquist, Michael Harthun and Brock Motum all played as many minutes as they ever have and five reserves combined for 25 points and half the Cougars' 36 rebounds.

And they contributed to a defensive effort that held Air Force to 39 percent shooting in the first half and 23 percent from behind the arc for the night.

Though Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds took his players to task.

"In the first half, I didn’t think we cut very hard on the offensive end," he said. "In the second half, we played like we’re capable of under the circumstances."

The Falcons shot 54 percent after halftime and scored 44 points.

"It's just such a unique style of play, it's just different than anything we've done all year," Bone said. "It's difficult."

But they survived.

Washington State will take finals' week off from games before traveling to Kennewick next Saturday for a doubleheader with the women's team at the Toyota Arena. The women, who host the University of Portland today, will face the University of San Francisco at 1:30 p.m. while the men host Bone's old school, Portland State, at 4:30.

•••

• Some more thoughts from the Arena ... This might have been DeAngelo Casto's toughest game this year and it started on the first possession. Mike McLain got him to bite on a fake cut, went back door and scored. After that, Casto wasn't nearly as aggressive as he usually is, though some of that might have been done by design, and played just 17 minutes. He finished with just three points and three turnovers. ... The Falcons played a matchup zone most of the game, but did play a diamond-and-one on Thompson at spots in the second half. They also manned up late and forced a couple turnovers. ... WSU finished with 13 turnovers, 10 in the second half. ... The 24 points Air Force scored in the first half was the Cougars' best defensive first half of the year. ... Abe Lodwick played just 7 minutes as Koprivica had his best game of the year and Motum did as well. ... One thing I couldn't work in was how well Thompson played defensively. Throughout the second half, he was shifted to whomever had the hot hand and he shut them down. He guarded Evan Washington, Air Force's second leading scorer, most of the night and Washington finished with just seven points. After Lyons had his streak, Thompson switched over and slowed him down. He also had 8 rebounds.

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• One more personal note. I have to finish up my furlough time this week, so I won't miss time during the Pac-10 season. So we'll be off the blog until Friday. Sorry. It's not what I want but it is, as they say, what it is.

•••••

• That's it for tonight. We'll be back before the Portland State game. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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