Honestly, after an 18-hour Saturday, fighting snow on I-5 and turbulence on two bumpy flights across the Cascades, I don't know why I'm awake at this ungodly hour of 6:45 a.m. Oops, 7:45 – thanks Mr. Daylight Saving Guy. Why am I typing this post? Really, I should be sleeping. But no, I'm here at the computer, watching it snow outside – is it really spring forward? – and wondering how the drive to Pullman will be this evening. Oh well, no rest for the wicked. Let's get to our usual morning-after post. Then we'll take two more Excedrin – and no, I don't get a promo fee for that. Just an ulcer. Read on.
• There were a lot of long faces in the Hec-Ed hallway yesterday as a multitude of Cougars tried to explain how they could expand so much energy and still come up short against UW. Ironically, as I listen to the tape, some of the comments are hard to discern over the noise of the Huskies and their fans celebrating on the court some 50-feet and a thin black curtain away. As you could tell by reading last night's post, Nik Koprivica stepped up and took the bullet, blaming his poor shooting for the defeat. But really, the culprit was a lack of offensive ammunition throughout the lineup. The Cougars walk such a fine line, if just one of their top scorers has an off night, or one player is out with an injury or one or two of the supporting cast can't rise up and contribute a few points, the chances of them winning diminish considerably. They can't overcome letdowns. And that may just be the difference between the 25-win seasons just past and this one.
Tony Bennett talks a lot about teachable moments – he used the term again yesterday while talking about the Huskies sagging off Marcus Capers and Koprivica, saying they need to improve their shooting over the summer so it doesn't happen next season. One such moment that I'm sure will come up is Capers' third foul, which came with 1 minute, 23 seconds left in the first half. Capers missed a drive – it was obvious he thought he was hit on the arm – and he tried to wrestle the rebound away from Jon Brockman. No chance of that happening but he didn't quit and got the whistle. That's one of those plays you let go. Then you live to play a lot more in the second half. But, as numerous coaches have said over the years, the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. In other words, they learn.
• With the loss, WSU drops to seventh in the conference (a win and the Cougars would have been sixth and missed playing Wednesday). First up in the conference tournament is 10th-place Oregon in the 8:30 p.m. game Wednesday. Great. Win and WSU faces UCLA at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Great. Win and its either Cal or USC at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Great.
• OK, enough of my bitching over the late games, you want links. Here they are. We start with our S-R story. ... As can be expected, there are innumerable stories in the Puget Sound papers. From the Times, you have Bob Condotta's gamer, a Jerry Brewer column and a sidebar on the Cougars from Percy Allen along with this piece on Venoy Overton. ... In the P-I, the game story comes from Dan Raley and Greg Johns adds this Overton sidebar. ... The News Tribune has a gamer from Don Ruiz and a John McGrath column. ... Let's move on throughout the Pac-10. Both LA teams won Saturday, with UCLA clinching second with an easy win over Oregon – Josh Shipp has been on fire since the WSU loss – and USC earning the sixth seed with its victory over Oregon State. ... In Arizona, the Wildcat faithful can breath a little easier as UA snapped a four-game losing streak by shooting down Stanford. And ASU bounced back from a three-game losing streak with a relatively easy victory over Cal.
... A couple of other Pac-10 links, including Buster Sports' Nick Daschel picking his Pac-10 award winners and the usual excellent conference roundup from the Oregonian's Mike Tokito, who sat next to me yesterday (poor guy). That's it for ... wait, I've got one football oriented one. Two WSU recruits were playing basketball this weekend in Tacoma, and the Times had this notebook about them.
• Now we turn our attention to comments from the players and coaches. We'll start with the Cougars and then add a couple from UW.
WSU coach Tony Bennett on the Cougars' play: "Thought they battled their guts out. ... At times they got a little rattled, a couple of kids had never been in an environment this intense. ... We got it where we wanted to and we did not die. And we had chances to. I guess it was not meant to be. ... It was hard-fought game. I take my hat off to the intensity level of both teams."
The fourth foul on Klay Thompson: "I was disappointed in Klay's fourth foul. That hurt us. We had to take him off the floor. I thought it was on Koprivica. That's why I lost my head and acted like a raving lunatic. ... I think it's owed to us to have the right call made in that setting, when it's the fourth foul putting one of our scorers, our main guys we need on the floor on the bench. ... "There's a lot of bumping when guys are dribbling the ball and I thought that's fine, if they don't want to call it. On that one I thought, 'jeez, it's just a little bit different on that one.' If you're going to call a foul, fine, but I thought it was on Koprivica."
Getting it close at the end: "We thought, 'we're in a spot we're used to being in and their not.' But they made the plays."
The Hec-Ed atmosphere: "In this place, it gets loud and they feed off that. It's a frenzy in there and I think it affects a lot of things, I'll just put it that way."
The play of Koprivica: "Nik struggled to score and shoot it but he played real physical on defense."
UW's rebounding advantage: "They're tough on the glass. They preach it, they do it and they have one of the best in the country in Brockman. We had to do everything we could to grab one and at times it wasn't enough."
Koprivica on his performance: "I've got to get better with those finishing because coach gave me a chance and I've got to give him back, give this team back."
The fouls totals in the second half: "We had six fouls and they had zero. That's tough."
The yapping back-and-forth: "It's just part of the game. Everyone was fired up. They got fired up, I got fired up."
Baynes on UW sagging down on him: "I knew that coming into the game, that was what they were going to do. ... I have to be able to find our shooters even better than that."
The foul trouble and Daven Harmeling's injury: "It gives opportunities for other guys to step up."
Looking back at the UW games over the years: "Hopefully we can still play another one against them in the Pac-10 championship game."
Caleb Forrest on the way WSU played: "We gave ourselves a chance and kind of redeemed ourselves from earlier in the year."
The rest of the season: "Now we're into single-elimination deals, ... try to keep it going as long as we can. I'm not ready to be done with it yet."
Whether UW getting into the bonus before being called for a second-half foul surprised him: "It didn't surprise me. But that's not the way it should be. We're a team that plays really good defense in a way where we try not to foul. And they're playing up in your face and trying to get after you. It doesn't make sense to me that they could have eight fouls and we have zero."
Taylor Rochestie on the foul trouble: "That was tough. Anytime Klay's on the bench, Marcus ... anytime you've got guys like that who have to sit the bench for not a coach's reason, but not for playing reasons, is not what you want, especially in a game like this. You want all your guns in at the end and it was tough for us coming down the stretch to have to play with some of the guys out."
The words with Overton, which he declined to share: "It was just two players out there playing the game."
Guarding Isaiah Thomas: "You've just got to try to keep him in front. He's got a great hesitation move, he knows how to use his body in the lane and he hit a big one down the stretch on me. I don't know how he got it up there and I bet there's a lot of defenders who say the same thing after guarding him."
Going 4 minutes near the end without taking a shot: "I don't say to myself when I come down I have to make a shot. I've said it over and over again, I come down and I try to make a play. I saw some guys open and you know, if we hit a couple shots then we're speaking a different note right now. And you're saying 'way to give up the ball.' So I just come down, try to make the right read and see who's open."
What's next: "We've played good basketball these last couple weeks and we're going to need to play even better basketball next week."
UW coach Lorenzo Romar: "When you win a championship, it's very good for a lot of reasons. But there's no better reason, for me, than to watch our guys win a championship and to have that experience for the rest of their lives to remember. ... There are many collegiate players who have gone on who have not won a conference championship. Our guys can say they've done that."
Overton on Rochestie: "He was a little frustrated but he's a tough player so I knew he was going to bounce back and help his team out the best he can. I knew if we limit a lot of touches then they were going to be in trouble."
• That's it for today. The Cougars leave Pullman on Tuesday, so everything this week will move up a day. We'll have more than usual for you on Monday. Until then …