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WSU explodes in second half

COUGARS

Sorry this took so long, but … OK, I have no excuse. I just took a long time to write it. It’s ready now, so click the link. You’ll find the unedited story along with some web-only notes.

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• Here’s the story. .

PULLMAN – Even after the University of Arizona harried them into a 10-point loss almost a month ago in Tucson, the Washington State Cougars didn’t feel defeated.

Frustrated, angry and disappointed, yes. But defeated, no, despite having melted down in the second half against UA’s pressure defense.

So they returned the favor Thursday night.

Even down to waiting until the second half to take apart the Wildcats’ offense – and defense – en route to a surprisingly easy 69-53 Pac-10 Conference win before 7,957.

“There was a level of toughness in the second half that I thought was good,” WSU coach Tony Bennett understated after the Cougars limited Arizona to 8 of 23 from the floor in the second half and 40.9 shooting overall. The Wildcats have shot better than 50 percent since their first run-in with the Cougars.

Though most may look at the WSU second-half offense – the Cougars scored 43 points, hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and converted 17 of 25 shots, the last of which was Aron Baynes’ rim-rattling dunk with 54 seconds left – and place credit for the win there, Bennett looked elsewhere.

The third-year coach, who is still yet to put a sub .500 team on the floor, began with the play of freshman guard Marcus Capers, inserted into the starting lineup to pressure Arizona’s point, Nic Wise, averaging better than 20 points a game since the first WSU game.

“Marcus really extended his defense,” Bennett said. “We challenged him all week to pick up, to get after the ball and work.

“We couldn’t get that matchup in the first half – Marcus had two quick fouls – and we just wanted to set our defense. The point of attack is so important for us defensively and it hasn’t been great all year.”

Wise took advantage of Capers’ foul trouble to get into the lane early and often, going into the locker room with 15 points and two assists. He finished with 19 and four.

He and the rest of UA’s Big Three (Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill) had all of UA’s 29 first-half points and helped the Wildcats (18-10 overall and 8-7 in conference play) build a lead that stretched to 11 with 5 minutes left.

But, behind Caleb Forrest’s seven points, the Cougars (15-13, 7-9) went on a 10-2 run to end the half, drawing within three when Klay Thompson nailed a 3-pointer from in front of the Friel Court sign, some 24 feet from the basket.

Before the game Thompson and fellow freshman Mike Harthun had been playing double-or-nothing from the exact spot.

Thompson said he would miss the first, make the second – every time. He got one chance as the first-half ran out – and hit it. It got him going, and he scored 11 of his 16 points after halftime.

“Klay’s 3 at the end was big,” Bennett said. “Just to crawl back in, because we struggled on both ends of the floor.”

“The last 4 minutes of the first half,” UA interim coach Russ Pennell said, “we just had an opportunity to really … stretch the game out and we didn’t do it.”

Bennett said the Cougars spent halftime talking about tightening up defensively – Arizona was 1 of 8 in the second half’s first 6 minutes – and finding the high post offensively.

“If you could handle (the pressure) there was a pretty big sweet spot in there,” Bennett said of the area around the free-throw line.

WSU tied it quickly after halftime, fell behind by three, then scored 11 unanswered points to take control. In the stretch, Forrest and DeAngelo Casto, playing the high post, combined for seven points.

“I think they were told to play off me or DeAngelo, whoever was in the high post,” Forrest said, “and make sure Baynes didn’t get it in the low post.

“I think they wanted to challenge me and DeAngelo and make us prove to them we could play.”

They did.

Forrest finished with 15 points and six rebounds, plus was perfect on nine free-throw attempts. Casto scored a career-high 11 on 5 of 6 shooting. Two of those buckets came when he caught the ball at the elbow, turned, faced and dribbled to the basket uncontested for a layup. He also added another career-high with his five assists, again most coming from the high post.

Arizona’s trapping zone forced 13 turnovers in Tucson and never allowed WSU to get in rhythm, especially in the second half. The Cougars turned it over 14 times this time, but only once while building their double-digit lead. Instead of making rushed passes, they made good ones, with 22 assists on their 25 baskets.

“If you break it down, you are going to get the shots you want,” said Rochestie, who finished with 17 points, five assists and no turnovers. “It’s easy to get rushed and that’s what they want you to do. … When you’re playing steady, playing poised, that’s when you start getting assists.”

And wins.

“I love the way we’re playing as far as just wanting to win,” Rochestie said of the Cougars’ wins over UCLA and Arizona, two schools they are a combined 28-145 against. “We’re doing it together, playing with a lot of passion, playing with a lot of intensity. … This is the way you’re supposed to play basketball.”

NOTES: Budinger came in averaging a team-leading 17.8, but had just nine on 3 of 11 shooting. It snapped a streak of 14 consecutive double digit games for the junior. Thompson guarded him in the second half and held Budinger scoreless from the floor. Daven Harmeling started at the power forward and guarded him early, but Bennett felt the Cougars needed Forrest’s offense, which meant putting Thompson on Budinger and letting Forrest guard 3-point specialist Zane Johnson. “We challenged Klay with guarding Budinger and, with his length and slides, he was pretty tough on him,” Bennett said. “He’s an NBA player,” Thompson added “You don’t get many opportunities like that. You don’t want to back down or let your teammates down.” … Hill finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Baynes matched the rebounds as WSU won the battle of the boards 34-25. The Cougars had eight offensive rebounds in the first half. … Forrest may have had one of his better games, but the senior missed a reverse slam on a fast break with 11:02 remaining and WSU up 45-35. Bennett wasn’t amused – then. “Not very impressive,” Bennett answered when asked about it. After that brought a chuckle in the postgame press conference, Bennett added, “at least we can laugh about it now. It was not the time or place.” … Thompson and Capers combined for 11 turnovers. Capers did not score but had a career-high tying six assists. Thompson tied the WSU freshman record for 3-pointers with 62 (Bennie Seltzer in 1990) and is second in scoring with 368 points. … The win snapped WSU’s three-game losing streak to the Wildcats. The last win came in 2007. … Wise went to the hole with 8:40 left, scored and was fouled hard by Casto. The bucket cut the WSU lead to 50-41 but Wise was slow getting up. He finally made it to the free throw line, but was holding his back. The 86 percent free throw shooter barely hit the rim on the attempt. He said afterward he was OK. … Budinger left the game with about a minute left and limped up the tunnel to the locker room. He also said he was OK.

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• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning with our usual day-after post. Until then …


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