Tony Bennett saw it in simple black and white. "I thought we got out-toughed today, I'll be honest with you," he said in the Staples Center hallway after UCLA's 64-53 defeat of Washington State. "In a game we needed to play, how we needed to play didn't show itself until the end." The Cougars couldn't hit a shot early, couldn't handle UCLA's pressure until it was too late and fell in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament. Now they'll wait until late Sunday to see who they might play in the NIT, or whatever tournament they end up in. Read on for the long version of our story.
• Here's the unedited version of the game story.
LOS ANGELES – Over the past few weeks, Washington State has avoided what had been its Achilles' heel most of the season, the long scoring drought.
It came back Thursday night. With a vengeance.
And it happened early in the Cougars' 64-53 loss to UCLA in the Pac-10 quarterfinals at the Staples Center, ending any hope WSU had of earning the conference's automatic NCAA berth.
Over almost 7 minutes in front of a crowd listed as 16,271, the Cougars missed 12 consecutive shots.
And UCLA took advantage, turning many of the errant attempts into fast-break baskets and a 5-4 deficit into a 25-5 game-deciding lead.
"Man, we got some good looks," WSU coach Tony Bennett said of the stretch. "We were right there and the ball wouldn't go in."
Bennett could have been referring to one possession early in the 21-0 run.
In it, Aron Baynes and DeAngelo Casto played volleyball on the glass, only to miss four point-blank attempts. Finally, Darren Collison came out with the ball and threw it ahead to Michael Roll. He found Josh Shipp on a wing and UCLA's senior nailed a 3-pointer.
It was only 14-5, UCLA, but it seemed like more. And it soon would be.
"We had a lot of open looks, looks that normally go down for us, and we were just unable to finish them tonight," said Baynes, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 8 of 15 shooting. "It gave us a big gap to overcome."
"Just effort," Shipp said of the early run. "Whenever a team comes out with that great effort and they're able to get out to an early lead that builds pressure, you can turn them over and get fastbreak points."
And that's exactly what happened. The Cougars started taking quick shots. The misses and mistakes – WSU also had three turnovers in the run – served to ignite the Bruin break. UCLA (25-7 and ranked 15th in the nation) scored a third of the streak's points in transition.
"We got sped up by their pressure," Bennett said. "We needed to have a little more composure and let the ball swing and work the offense a little bit. And then tough, unified defensive possessions were few and far between."
With the win the Bruins avenged an 82-81 home defeat at the Cougars hands just 19 days ago.
"You beat us at our place, we're going to show you, can you handle this," said Bennett of UCLA's mindset. "And we couldn't. That was disappointing."
In the earlier game, Taylor Rochestie scored a career-high 33 points, hitting nine shots, including five 3-pointers.
In this one he was part of the struggle, missing all five of his attempts in the first half – WSU shot 20.6 percent as a team, 30 percent for the game – and finishing 1 of 11 for eight points.
And Klay Thompson, who had burned Jrue Holiday often enough early in the Pauley Pavilion game that Holiday sat most of the second half, couldn't shake the UCLA freshman this time and never got untracked.
Thompson finished with five points, hitting just 1 of his first 8 shots and 2 of 11 overall. He also had eight rebounds but four turnovers as WSU had 10 overall.
"We played at their tempo," Baynes said. "We let them play how they wanted to play. We can't afford to do that."
Thompson's only 3-pointer broke the long early drought and it keyed a 12-3 run that brought WSU back within 28-17. The margin stayed in that range through halftime, with Rochestie's first – and only – 3 of the night cutting the lead to 33-24 right after halftime.
But the Bruins, behind Darren Collison, who despite nursing a sore tailbone had 15 points, strung together seven consecutive points and WSU didn't get it in single digits again until Caleb Forrest's 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds left cut the UCLA lead to 59-51.
"Did we?" Bennett said when asked how WSU got back into it at the end. "It resembled a little more of what we needed to do from the start.
"I thought we got out-toughed today, I'll be honest with you. In a game we needed to play, how we needed to play didn't show itself until the end."
Now Washington State will have to wait for Sunday to see if it gets invited to the National Invitational Tournament or if the postseason will consist of one of the other two, less-established ones.
"The season's not over," Rochestie said. "The season's definitely not over. ... I want to make the NIT. I think we're good enough. If that's the case, I want to go to Madison Square Garden (for the final four). I want to compete with these guys as long as I can."
The Bruins will face USC tonight in the late semifinal of the conference tournament. The Trojans, seeded sixth, built an 18-point first-half lead but barely survived a comeback from third-seeded Cal, 79-75. USC moved on thanks to a 53-27 rebounding edge, which included 22 on the offensive end.
Taj Gibson paced the Trojans (19-12 and hoping for an NCAA at-large berth) with 21 points and 16 rebounds. Freshman DeMar DeRozan added 17 and 11. The Bears, 22-10, await their NCAA berth this Sunday.
Regular season champion Washington will square off with Arizona State in the first semifinal. The Huskies (25-7) handled Stanford (18-13), 85-73, while ASU (23-8) opened Thursday's play with a 68-56 win over Arizona (19-13), possibly ending UA's streak of 24 consecutive NCAA appearances.
• That's it for tonight. We're headed back to the hotel for some sleep. We'll have our post in the morning and this time we'll have a few extra comments to share. Until then …