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WSU’s poor second half leads to 80-71 defeat

COUGARS

For a team that came in giving up 61.8 points per game, giving up 51 in the second half to a UCLA team that only was averaging 74 was a shock. You could see it afterward. We have some thoughts, so read on.

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• I'm not sure how well I would even play gin after a trip to Hawaii. And other than a quick stretch late in the first half, the Cougars looked as if the long road trip they are on is starting to sap them. The first 15 minutes of the game tonight were just plain ugly. Then came the offensive explosion that made you think the Cougars just might be able to leave Pauley with their third-ever win. But the last 20 minutes showed that wasn't true. ... After UCLA's 18-4 run early in the last half, the closest WSU would ever get was four, the last time at 56-52 on Faisal Aden's 10-foot jumper. But Reeves Nelson scored on a pretty power move that ended with a reverse layup and Tyler Lamb followed that with a fastbreak layup and, with 8 minutes left, WSU was trying to play catch-up. And the Cougars didn't have the legs for it. Ken Bone didn't want to make an excuse, but he did have a little to say about it and we'll share that in the morning. ... One thing I didn't notice until just now, the Cougars shot just eight 3-pointers all night. They were 3-4 in the first half, 0-4 after. For a team that hit the century mark in made 3s this season with Thompson's 22-footer that gave them a 33-22 lead, that's tough to figure. UCLA closed out hard, put a body on the WSU guards and dared the Cougars to drive. They did, but the big bodies at the rim – Nelson, Josh Smith, Brendan Lane, et al – wouldn't let them finish with an easy bucket. Reggie Moore took it to the rim six times and finished just once. Klay Thompson missed 11 shots, many of them within a couple feet. And all of DeAngelo Casto's misses were in tight. ... Thompson said afterward the Cougars have to learn from this and then forget it, because USC is coming up on Friday. And the Trojans, who lost to Washington in overtime, are every bit as physical at the rim as UCLA is, if not more. It should be interesting.

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Here's my gamer ...

LOS ANGELES – Headed into the locker room at halftime, Washington State's Cougars had a bounce in their step.

An explosive 4-minute run had given them an eight-point edge as they sprinted off the court in their Pac-10 Conference opener Wednesday night. After all, the seven times this year they had led at halftime, they led at the finish.

Twenty basketball minutes later they trudged down the same path, an 80-71 defeat weighing them down.

"We let one get away today," said Abe Lodwick more than once after the Bruins' Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt basically wrested it away from the Cougars (10-3 overall) at Pauley Pavilion.

Losing at Pauley isn't new for WSU – it has one just twice here, both in the past seven years – but the way the UCLA (9-4) pinned the Cougars over the final half hurt.

"We're not the team we want to be right now," said Lodwick, who had seven rebounds, the same as guard Reggie Moore, and three blocks. "We want to be the best we can be in March.

"We've got to learn how to close games out. We were winning at half. The best teams in the nation are winning those games."

The Bruins were in that category early in the second half.

They overcame the eight-point halftime deficit – WSU actually led by as many as 11 three times late in an at times lethargic opening half – with an 18-4 run ignited by Honeycutt's outside shooting and the inside muscle of the 6-foot-8 Nelson and 6-10, 305-pound freshman Josh Smith.

It was Honeycutt's 23-footer from the right wing that seemed to get the 7,934 aroused. The jumper, after coming off a series of screens, cut the WSU lead to three at 39-36.

And when Honeycutt answered a Klay Thompson drive – part of the junior's 26 points – with another trey from the corner, the place was jumping.

"I asked him, 'will you miss one for us,' " Lodwick said.

The answer was no.

The Bruins took the lead for good on Lazeric Jones' lone 3-pointer two minutes later – part of the point guard's 10-point, 11-assist night – and WSU had no answer.

The outside shots – UCLA, 2 for 11 beyond the arc in the opening half, hit 4 in the span of 3 minutes early in the second – gave the Bruins the lead, but it was Nelson (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Smith (8 and 6) inside who kept the Cougars at bay.

"Big Josh Smith, he's a load," Lodwick said of the Kentwood, Wash., native.

Thompson hit a 15-foot jumper with 15:57 remaining, and then didn't score from the field again until there were 41 seconds left. In between he attacked the rim, but either was fouled or couldn't finish in traffic.

"It was hard to finish in there," said Thompson, who was 12 of 12 from the line. "That's when I think I need to stop and pull up more because they were collapsing at the basket."

The only other consistent offensive option the Cougars had after halftime was Faisal Aden, who continually got free on the right baseline and nailed nine jumpers. He finished with 19 in his first Pac-10 game.

The Cougars, despite Nelson and Honeycutt combining for 20 rebounds, won the battle of the boards, 35-32, with Moore's total a career high.

But the sophomore guard was also 1 of 7 from the floor, with many of those coming near the rim. WSU shot 37.9 percent in the second half and finished at 44.6 percent, nearly 5 percent below their season average.

Though for a stretch of the first half, the Cougars were as hot as they could be.

After a tedious start punctuated by WSU turnovers and UCLA mental mistakes, the Bruins were unable to build much of a lead despite shooting better than 60 percent in the first 6 minutes.

In fact, until Thompson pulled up in transition and buried a 22-footer with 6:57 before the half, both teams seemed to be sleep walking through their Pac-10 opener.

DeAngelo Casto, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, had pulled WSU within 22-20 about a minute earlier. But prior to Thompson's first long-range bomb, the game had little flow

After that, there was a Crimson tide, as UCLA went eight consecutive possessions without a hoop – four turnovers and four misses – while WSU kept pouring in baskets.

Casto converted a Moore steal, Aden followed a Thompson miss with a 15-footer then a 3-pointer. Not to be forgotten, Thompson pulled up in transition and nailed another 3 as Moore found him after penetrating.

Following the 13-0 wave, WSU had taken control. After halftime, UCLA wrested it back.

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• That's all for tonight. We'll be back in the morning with a post. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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