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WSU plays another close one


COUGARS

From blowout to nail-biter in about 20 minutes. Such is the life of a young college basketball team. The bottom line, though, is WSU won, holding off Stanford and winning 77-73. The Cougars are 13-5, 3-3 in the Pac-10 and inching ever closer to a possible postseason appearance, in whatever tournament that may be. Read on for the unedited version of our game story.

••••••••••

• Here’s the gamer …

PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars must have enjoyed Thursday night’s script. Enough, in fact, to put on a repeat performance Saturday.

Only this time, the Cougars played the role filled two days earlier by California, which in the closing credits was listed as “victor.”

In the sequel, WSU built a 21-point first-half lead, frittered away all but two of it down the stretch but held on to defeat Stanford, 77-73, in front of a matinee crowd of 8,148 in Beasley Coliseum.

Just two nights earlier, the Cougars had fallen behind by 20, rallied to pull within four but finally fell by five. And that frenetic rally may have played a part in Saturday’s near disaster.

“We looked fatigued,” said Washington State coach Ken Bone of a second half in which Stanford, behind the combined 29 of Landry Fields and Jeremy Green, scored 47 points. “And I understand a couple of these guys should be fatigued.”

Bone singled out Klay Thompson as an example of that weariness, noting Thompson played 37 minutes and “at some point you’re going to wear down, especially the way teams guard him.”

Thompson, tops in the Pac-10 at 22.7 points per game coming in but shooting just 35.8 percent from the floor in conference, played extended minutes partly because he rediscovered his shooting stroke, especially as WSU built a 46-26 halftime edge.

The sophomore was 7 of 11 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, hit three long-range jumpers and had 17 points at intermission. He finished with 27 points and three blocked shots, part of a WSU season-high 10.

“He got going early,” said Fields, the conference’s No. 2 scorer who finished with 18 points. “When someone’s hot and confident like that, no matter what you do it’s hard to stop him.”

Stop him, no, but Stanford (8-9 overall, 2-3 in Pac-10 play) slowed down Thompson – and all the Cougars – in the final 20 minutes, most notably from long range. Thompson missed all four 3-pointers he took after halftime as WSU was 0 for 7.

“We made some adjustments in the second half and fought and clawed our way back into the game,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.

After Green (24 points, including 16 in the second half) and Fields rallied Stanford in the final 8:53 – WSU led 64-47 at that point – it was Reggie Moore who kept the Cardinal at bay.

“At the end of the day, even when he doesn’t play well, he’s good enough to have out on the floor and help us win,” Bone said of the freshman point guard, who was 1 of 5 from the floor and had six assists – all in the first half – and four turnovers.

With 50.3 seconds left and Stanford within 70-66, Moore hit one of two free throws. From there he was perfect on his final six, and, when Green and Fields each missed in the final 16 seconds – they were only 15 of 39 from the floor combined as Stanford shot 35 percent – WSU moved within a game of first place in the muddled Pac-10.

“With (Moore) knocking down free throws, he’s able to keep the lead,” said Marcus Capers, who chipped in 10 points and six rebounds while defending Fields. “All we have to do is get stops.”

Which were rare after halftime. With the 20-point lead, the Cougars (13-5, 3-3) started the second half by coughing up the ball twice, taking a quick shot and failing to get back in transition. The result was the Cardinal scored six quick points and gained confidence.

That stretch mirrored the first 3 minutes of the game, in which Stanford broke out to a 10-2 lead, another in a series of slow starts for WSU in Pac-10 play.

In both instances Saturday, Bone went to his bench quickly, hoping to inject some energy into his team. It worked well in the first half – WSU went on an 11-0 burst – but not so well in the second, despite Capers, a starter who stayed on the court in both instances, blocking Jarret Manns’ fastbreak dunk attempt, firing up the crowd.

Not as much, though, as it was when Bone got his second technical of the season. That came with 7:50 left, was in response to the WSU coach slapping the scoring table with two hands, and helped the Cardinal to a five-point possession, cutting a 15-point lead by a third.

Bone sidestepped questions about the call – his actions were in response to a Nik Koprivica foul on Fields – but had no such reticence when talking about the slow starts.

“It’s a concern,” Bone said. “Maybe it’s time to shake up the lineup and go with some different guys, because that just won’t work. We’ll take a good look at that this week, that’s for sure.”

But the understudies came through.

“The kids off the bench tonight did an outstanding job,” Bone said.

Supporting stars like Xavier Thames (six points, five assists, no turnovers, four rebounds in 23 minutes), rarely used post Charlie Enquist (four points, two blocks, four rebounds in 13 minutes) and Koprivica (10 points and eight rebounds before fouling out 33.8 seconds left) gave WSU something it lacked on Thursday, as written by Bone and delivered by Thompson.

“Toughness and energy,” the player said, “and that’s what we needed.”

•••

• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning with our day-after look. Until then …


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