Of course the Ducks were winless in the Pac-10 coming in. Of course they were 6-17 overall, hadn't defended well, had been worked by just about every conference foe. But, as Taylor Rochestie said, Washington State, after having dropped three consecutive games and five of six, needed a win. Didn't matter who it was over, where it was played, how it happened. The Cougars wanted a W. They got it. Read on for the unedited version of my game story.
• Here's the game story with a few web-only notes at the end.
PULLMAN – Looking forward to the Pac-10's stretch run this week, Washington State men's basketball coach Tony Bennett expressed one goal. He wanted his team to play better.
"I'm not sure," Bennett answered when asked if Thursday night's 67-38 rout of the Oregon Ducks before 7,068 at Friel Court was his team's best effort of the year.
"They were struggling a little bit and hopefully we had something to do with that," added Bennett before finally conceding, "There were good stretches. One of our better performances, certainly."
The best stretch in the Cougars' most dominating win over Oregon in 17 years – WSU won 90-55 in Eugene back in 1992 – came right at the start.
After allowing LeKendric Longmire to drain a 15-foot jumper at the 18-minute, 50-second mark, tying the game at 2, the Cougars tossed a shutout for the next 9:42.
And, because Klay Thompson during the same stretch was not, "even seeing the basket and hitting everything he put up there," according to Taylor Rochestie, the Cougars built a game-deciding 19-2 lead.
"I thought the way we defended," Bennett said of the stretch, "then, obviously, when you combine hot shooting with that kind of defense, that puts you in a great spot."
How great? WSU (13-11 overall, 5-7 in the Pac-10 and loser of five of its six) took a 14-point lead into the locker room, held Oregon scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the second half and led by as many as 33, when Rochestie nailed a 25-footer as the shot clock ran out with 4:32 left. From there, the Cougars and Ducks cleared the benches. WSU played 14 players, Oregon all 12 that traveled.
Thompson was the catalyst on the offensive end, continuing his hot shooting of late – he came in having hit 13 of his last 23 shots, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Against the Ducks, who dropped to 6-18 overall and winless in a dozen conference games, Thompson hit 5 of his first 7 attempts, finished 9 of 15 from the field, 5 of 6 from beyond the arc, and poured in a game-high 25 points.
"He seems fresh and making some good decisions," Bennett said of his freshman guard. "He's handling it better, his shot selection is good, defending harder. Ya, I think he's really becoming more and more consistent. That's good to see."
And easy to explain.
"During practice I've been working on getting my balance right," Thompson said. "I think, every time I shoot with balance and go straight up, I think it's in almost every time. I start missing my shots when I'm off-balance and take off-rhythm shots."
The Ducks, who came in with statistically the conference's worst defense, didn't do much to knock any of the Cougars off balance. Washington State shot 56.8 percent from the floor and hit 9 of 13 of their 3-point attempts.
Thompson wasn't alone, as Rochestie hit 4 of 5 3-pointers en route to 16 points and Aron Baynes, whose parents were in from Australia for the first time in his college career, struggled early but scored 11, all in the second half, and grabbed nine rebounds.
"I thought Taylor (and) Klay shot, other than a couple, all rhythm, quality shots," Bennett said. "They weren't forces."
On the other end, the Ducks were forcing shots just about every possession, though the WSU defense, torched by Cal and Stanford last weekend, had a role in that.
"We just did what we always try to do," Bennett said. "Make them earn every possession. Not let the ball get into the lane, try and really contain the gaps in the lane and make the 3-point shooters shoot contested shots."
Oregon shot 20.8 percent from the floor, hitting just 10 field goals – the Ducks' season low coming in had been 16 against Stanford in January – with only four of those coming from beyond the arc, in 18 attempts. So much for WSU's struggles defending from long range, as opponents had hit better than 70 percent against them in the last two-plus games.
"Make them shoot as many contested shots as we can," Bennett said he told his team. "Honestly, I thought we did a good job of that against Cal too with the exception of about two, maybe three shots.
"You can't get so hung up on numbers. You've got to look at 'did you contest?' ... If our hands our in their face and they're making tough shots, I'll live with that."
It wasn't a problem against Oregon, which last shot better than 50 percent 12 games ago.
Tajuan Porter, who was 2 of 7 from the floor, had a simple reason for the rout.
"We just got outworked today," the junior guard said.
That deficit didn't show on the offensive glass – Oregon had 17, though many came in the final few minutes, and WSU still had a 35-27 edge overall – but it did in the shooting statistics. Garrett Sim, 1 of 8. Longmire, 2 of 7. Matthew Humphrey, 1-5. Drew Wiley, the only Duck in double figures with 10, 3 of 8.
"We're having fun and we're getting better as a team," Rochestie answered when asked what the best thing about the win was. "But we need to win some more games. We've had some close losses, we've had some losses that aren't that close, so to come out on the winning side is what's most important."
NOTES: The chance to clear the bench was big for Bennett. "Those were very valuable minutes for guys like Harthun (three points in 8 minutes), Abe Lodwick (scoreless in 7 minutes), Capers (three points in 8 minutes) – Marcus has played before – DeAngelo (Casto, four points in 16 minutes), all of them. And then to reward some of the guys who work real hard in practice for us, that's always a positive." Late in the game WSU had five freshmen on the floor and Oregon had four. ... Thompson hit both his free throws and is 24 of 24 this year. ... Josh Crittle came off the bench for Oregon and grabbed nine rebounds. ... Rochestie added five assists and had just two turnovers. ... Oregon coach Ernie Kent said he saw this coming. He said the Ducks were sluggish in practice. “My gut feeling was right,” he said.
• That's it for tonight. We will be back in the morning with our usual day-after post. Till then …