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WSU comes up four minutes short


COUGARS

If you had time today, I'm sure you watched WSU's 86-70 defeat at Cal in a game Ken Bone rightly said was not indicative of the final score. On the link we have the unedited version of our game story for you to read and comment upon. Then we'll be back tomorrow with our usual day-after items. Read on.
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• Here's the story ...

BERKELEY – The question was supplied by Washington State University sophomore DeAngelo Casto.

"It's never been a doubt the Cougs are going to be able to play with this team," Casto said. "It's, 'Are the Cougs going to play for 40 minutes? Are the Cougs going to play for 30 minutes and then tail out for the last 10? Or are they going to have patches? What's it going to be?' "

Saturday afternoon the answer was 36 minutes.

And that's was four too few against the California Golden Bears, leaders of the Pac-10 Conference men's basketball race.

The result was entertaining but predictable, as the Bears scored 15 unanswered points in those final four minutes to post an 86-70 victory before 9,536.

The win raised Cal's record to 17-8, 9-4 in a Pac-10 that is finally starting to get some separation. With their second loss on this Bay Area trip, the Cougars fell to 15-10, 5-8.

But this defeat was different than Thursday's epic meltdown at Stanford – and not just because WSU played better for longer periods.

It was different because Klay Thompson put on an offensive show in the first-half. It was different because when Cal came out of the locker room with coach Mike Montgomery's foot imbedded in their egos, the Cougars only took a couple minutes to meet aggression with aggression. And it was different because, trailing by one, 71-70, with 4 minutes left, WSU never scored again – and really only got one good look.

Thompson helped WSU build a 45-34 halftime lead by impressing everyone in Haas Pavilion – from the eight NBA scouts in attendance, to his dad Mychal, to the 3-year-old in the front row of the upper deck – by hitting all five 3-pointers he took, a couple from as far as 25 feet, making 8 of his 11 attempts and putting up 23 points.

"It was almost if no one was guarding him," said Patrick Christopher, who actually had the assignment. "He was getting it in transition. It was just uncontested shots. With a shooter like that, you have to contest all his shots or else he'll do what he did in the first half."

But the Cougars had been in this position before, as recently as Thursday. They came out of the locker room facing a fired-up foe.

"Cal created that by picking up the intensity level right away, the first possession of the second half you could tell they were coming out and getting after it," WSU coach Ken Bone said. "After a couple minutes, our guys did a great job of absolutely competing as hard as they could."

WSU's last decent-sized lead (57-50) came with 12 minutes, 49 seconds left on Thompson's drive. Those would be the last of his 28 points as Christopher hounded him with every weapon at his disposal while putting up 19 points himself.

From there, Cal took advantage of four WSU turnovers in two minutes to score 10 quick points. But the Cougars didn't wilt, battling back to retake the lead, the final time at 68-67 on two Reggie Moore free throws, the last of his nine points.

Jorge Gutierrez, who didn't play in Cal's Pullman win, then scored four consecutive points before Nik Koprivica followed Moore's miss with a putback. There was 4:02 left to play.

Senior guard Jerome Randle, who had 39 points in Pullman and again hurt the Cougars with 24, missed a jumper and WSU had another chance to lead.

Koprivica attacked, got to the rim but his left-handed layup rimmed around and off.

Casto, who finished with 13 points and five blocks, was hit with a rebounding foul, Jamal Boykin, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, hit both free throws and the bottom was about to fall out.

Thompson came off a screen, caught a pass in front of the Cougar bench and tried to dribble to a balls screen. Christopher and Boykin doubled, the ball came loose and Christopher scored on the other end. It was 75-70, 2:53 left.

"I don't remember the ball getting ripped out of my hand, I just remember my hand getting knocked off the ball," Thompson said. "But oh well, that happens."

Bone wasn't so understanding.

"Those couple possessions, that's where it took a turn," he said. "A couple baskets by them, a couple missed opportunities for us, that's when the game changed."

After Thompson missed a 3 the next time down, Bone kept yelling about the earlier play and Michael Reed hit him with a technical. Four free throws later the game was over.

"The technical foul did not help the situation whatsoever," Bone admitted. "I thought Klay was getting banged around. ... As Klay was attacking the rim, I thought he was getting attacked. I'm just frustrated with that."

"That's just a coach fighting for his players," said Marcus Capers, who had nine points and four blocked shots, part of a school-record tying 12. "That's what we do for each other and that's what he's going to do for us."

But they didn't do it for 40 minutes.

"I thought our guys played some really good basketball against a great team on the road," Bone said. "It's just unfortunate the last few minutes went the way they did."

•••••

• One more thing. WSU released this statement this evening. We were right, of course, about Jim Sterk leaving.

PULLMAN, Wash. - In anticipation of an announcement expected to come from San Diego State University naming Jim Sterk as its athletic director, Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd has released the following statement regarding the athletic director position at WSU:

“We appreciate the contributions that Jim Sterk has made to WSU during his tenure as athletic director. Jim has done great things at WSU, and our athletic programs are stronger because of his leadership. He has positioned WSU Athletics in such a way as to continue a high level of competitiveness and excellence within the Pac-10 and across the nation. Jim has done an outstanding job for our university, and we wish him all the best in his new position.

“Early next week I will meet with the Athletic Department staff to update them on our direction going forward. I have asked Senior Associate Athletic Director/Senior Woman Administrator Anne McCoy to act as interim athletic director, and she has accepted my request to serve in this capacity. On Wednesday (Feb. 17) I will announce the composition of a search advisory committee to assist in the search for our next athletic director. I expect to identify a successful candidate within the next month.

“Under Jim’s leadership, our competitiveness within the Pac-10 Conference and the graduation rates and academic performance of our student-athletes has been greatly enhanced. He has raised the performance of WSU Athletics during his decade of leadership, and the future of Cougar Athletics is bright indeed. Our objective is to continue to advance the academic and athletic performances of our student-athletes under the next athletic director.”

• That's all for this evening. See you all tomorrow. 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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