I ran into one of the Cougar coaches in the Beasley Coliseum halls after the game. He was smiling. Mostly because WSU is playing the type of basketball the staff envisioned before the season. Three freshmen contributing and combining with the senior group to give WSU enough on both ends of the court to compete in the Pac-10 and beyond. With their second consecutive win over ASU, it looks like the Cougars will be playing beyond. Whatever the tournament, the improving Cougars may be a tough out for anyone. Click the link for the unedited version of our game story.
• Here's the gamer along with a few web-only notes …
PULLMAN – It may have been Senior Day, but for 44 minutes and 57 seconds, it wasn't the seniors' day.
Then Taylor Rochestie changed all that.
Washington State's senior point guard – 1 for 10 from the floor at the time – stepped back and drained a 28-foot 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Cougars to a 51-49 win over 14th-ranked Arizona State on Saturday.
"I made my first shot of the game and my last shot of the game," Rochestie said after taking a victory lap around the part of the 10,712 in attendance celebrating on Friel Court.
Rochestie's first shot, a 24-footer, gave the Cougars a 5-0 lead. But, over the next 42 minutes, WSU's third consecutive Pac-10 win turned into a slog-it-out defensive battle.
"It was tough on the offensive end for both our teams, it was a matter of who could stick in and play the defense," said Aron Baynes. "Both teams played the type of defense they needed to and we just came up with that one big play."
The Sun Devils, who were coming off a deflating 70-68 overtime loss to Washington on Thursday, overcame a six-point WSU lead with 5:47 left in regulation, finally tying it at 43 when James Harden connected on three free throws – despite two WSU time outs – with 2.4 seconds remaining.
"Marcus said he kind of hooked him," said Bennett of the call on Marcus Capers that sent Harden, the Pac-10's leading scorer, to the line.
It's not like the Cougars didn't have chances to put ASU (21-7, 10-6 and now out of the running for a Pac-10 title) away before then.
First Baynes, a 78 percent free throw shooter, missed the second of two shots that would have given the Cougars (16-13, 8-9) a four-point lead with 51 seconds left.
Then, after Harden drove on DeAngelo Casto, became part of a Casto-Baynes sandwich and missed the squeezed-off shot, Rochestie, a 90.4 percent free throw shooter, was fouled on the other end. He missed the front end of a one-and-one – and started to question how his last home game would end.
"Baynes and I kept looking over at each other, wondering why we weren't playing good on our senior (day)," Rochestie said.
Though it wasn't over. There was overtime. Which started with Derek Glasser nailing a contested 3-pointer, Rochestie missing one and Klay Thompson, who led WSU with 17 points and seven rebounds, bricking the front end of a one-and-one with 3:27 left.
But it was Harden who had fouled him. It was his fifth and, though he had struggled against the variety of defenders WSU threw at him, he's ASU's main threat.
"He didn't play one of his best games," ASU coach Herb Sendek said after the sophomore finished with 13 points on 2 of 11 from the floor – both makes 3-pointers – and 7 of 10 from the line.
"If you want to guard Harden, first of all, you have to be really physical," said one of those who did, Nik Koprivica. "He's such a good player but I think we were real physical and we out-toughed him."
Without Harden, his former high school teammate Derek Glasser tried to take over, scoring all six of ASU's overtime points, including a 3-pointer with 1:26 left for a 49-48 lead.
Rochestie then missed a drive he usually makes and knocked the rebound out of bounds.
"I was thinking on the way back, it must be that kind of night for me," Rochestie said. "A lot of the shots felt really good, felt in rhythm. I said 'If that's not going in, I don't think anything is.' "
But he would get another chance. The Devils ran the clock down before Rihards Kuksiks lost senior Caleb Forrest on a screen and attacked the hoop.
Baynes, who had 11 points on 5 of 14 shooting, many of the misses from point-blank range, stepped over to help. Kuksiks tried to loft a pass to Jeff Pendergraph but Forrest came from nowhere to get a piece of the ball and Baynes grabbed it with 13 seconds left.
He gave it to Rochestie, who rushed into frontcourt. He stumbled into Forrest, caught himself, passed to Capers, then got it right back.
"I just wanted to make a play," Rochestie said. "First I looked to drive. I felt some of our players, some of their players were stagnant but kind of blocking the lane.
"Soon as I realized that, I kind of backed it out. I looked up to the clock, saw about 4 seconds, saw that I had a little cushion and let it go."
Ty Abbott's half-court heave missed and Beasley Coliseum erupted – for possible the last time in Rochestie's career. But for the third consecutive year, none of which ended in regulation, WSU would win on Senior Day.
"I'm glad they left with that taste in their mouth," Bennett said of the ending for the five seniors honored before the game, "because that would have been a hard one had we not come away with it."
NOTES: WSU and ASU are 1-2 in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense. The Cougars shot 38.9 percent, the Sun Devils 41 percent. "They are very difficult to score against and we tried to do the best we could ourselves," Sendek said. "It certainly was a defensive battle." ... Only ASU's five starters scored and only six Devil players had more than 3 minutes, with Pendergraph and Kuksiks playing all 45 minutes. Rochestie did as well and Thompson played 44. But WSU had eight points off the bench, six by Casto. The freshman added six rebounds and the Cougars had a 35-30 edge. ... WSU came in shooting 77.3 from the line but hit just 4 of 9 ... With the win, WSU has defeated ASU six consecutive times. The Cougars also own a 33-32 edge in the series, the only Pac-10 school Washington State has that edge on. ... Four seniors started – Daven Harmeling joined Rochestie, Baynes and Forrest and played the first 6 minutes – with walk-on Ryan Bailey also honored. ... Harden also fouled out in overtime against the Huskies. ... Baynes said he had trouble gripping the basketball. He had at least three shots slip out of his hands.
• That's it for now. We'll be back in the morning with our usual next day post. Until then …