The Cougars said their goodbyes to Mac Court on Saturday, playing the role of accommodating guest. Their most important going-away gift? How about 36 missed shots? Or 21 missed 3-point attempts? They certainly didn’t give this one away – their 11 turnovers were four less than they had in the first half Thursday – but the shot themselves out of it. Our unedited game story is on the link, so read on …
• Here’s our game story …
EUGENE, Ore. – This time there was no doubt.
The Pac-10 regular season may have finished the same way as it began for the Washington State University Cougars, but their inability to make shots ensured there would be no controversy at the end of Saturday’s loss to Oregon.
The Cougars shot miserably in the first half, even worse to start the second and, despite another rally, fell 74-66 to the Ducks in the final Pac-10 game scheduled for McArthur Court.
A crowd of 8,761 turned out to say goodbye to Oregon’s two seniors, diminutive Tajuan Porter and injured Joevan Catron, and to see if the Ducks could avoid finishing in the Pac-10 cellar for the second consecutive year.
They did. And they were replaced by WSU, which, thanks to nine defeats in its last 11 games, fell to 6-12 in conference, 16-14 overall. The fact no Pac-10 team had ever had more conference wins and finished last was little consolation to the Cougars. But some things were.
“What we’re trying to do is play 40 minutes of effort and I thought we gave pretty close to 40 minutes of effort tonight,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “We made mistakes like every team, and we didn’t shoot the ball very well, but I thought our effort was good and that’s important.
“They’ve beat us twice. (So) we’re looking forward to going down to LA and seeing what we can do.”
That will happen Wednesday, when the ninth-seeded Cougars will face No. 8 Oregon in their first Pac-10 tourney game for the fourth time in five years, with the winner moving on to play top-seeded Cal on Thursday.
They might not have the same lead Duck, however. A television report Saturday said Oregon coach Ernie Kent had been fired Feb. 22, with the dismissal effective at the end of the season.
Kent would not comment after the game, though athletic director Mike Bellotti issued a statement through an spokesperson.
“Ernie and I have talked,” said Belloti, “and we will continue to talk throughout the Pac-10 Tournament.”
If it was Kent’s swan song in Eugene with Oregon (15-15, 7-11) – he’s been the Ducks’ head coach for 13 years, has guided them to the NCAA Tournament five times, including two Elite Eight trips – he went out with a convincing win.
And Porter, a thorn in WSU’s side for four years, helped make it happen, with 12 second-half points. He teamed with freshman E.J. Singler, brother of Duke All-American Kyle, to score Oregon’s first 14 second-half points (Porter five, Singler nine of his 15) that built what would be an insurmountable nine-point lead.
Insurmountable because, up to that point, WSU couldn’t make a shot. The Cougars were 10 for 36 from the field, 28 percent, 5 minutes into the second half.
“We have to take our time, get an easy score and try to get back in the game,” said Nik Koprivica, who hit just 2 of 6 shots but finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “Not let them get up by 15 and then try to chase them.”
Actually, Oregon’s biggest lead was 17 (60-43 with 6:24 remaining) and though the Cougars finally started hitting from long-range – WSU sank four of its last five but finished 8 for 29 beyond the arc – they couldn’t get closer than seven. For the game, WSU was 20 of 56 (35.7 percent) from the floor.
Klay Thompson, who hit 7 of his 11 shots Thursday in the Oregon State loss, put up twice as many attempts – a Pac-10 high for him – but made just seven. He was 4 of 14 from beyond the arc, the attempts a career high, and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. His 23-footer with 1:52 left lifted him over the 1,000 career-point mark, the third-fastest Cougar to hit the mark.
Asked if he felt it was a better weekend for him, Thompson chuckled.
“Better, besides today,” he said. “At least there were four or five really open shots that were frustrating not to hit. But you can’t lose your confidence because that’s the worst thing anybody can do.”
“I think we’re just not hitting,” said DeAngelo Casto, who did make 5 of his 8 attempts and 7 of 9 free throws, finishing with 17 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. “We’ve been in a slump for a while now.”
Part of WSU’s shooting woes can be attributed to two differences in this Duck team as opposed to the one that won in Pullman in a controversial double overtime.
Oregon played a lot of 2-3 matchup zone, something missing earlier, and got a huge contribution from junior LeKendric Longmire, who didn’t play a second in the first game.
Longmire hit 7 of 12 shots, led the Ducks with 17 points, 10 rebounds and hustle, running down two key loose balls when WSU was trying to rally.
And the zone, which seemed to scramble after every pass and challenge any inside look?
“They were active, but we still got every shot we wanted to,” said Reggie Moore, who had six assists, the most he’s had since mid-January. “I mean we got great shots. We got Nic with open 3s, we had DeAngelo under the basket, Klay wide-open 3s, we got our shots, we just weren’t knocking them down.”
Which was the difference.
“We rely a lot on our outside shooting and when we’re missing shots, it’s hard on us,” Koprivica said.
Now the Cougars must head into the Pac-10 Tournament on a three-game losing streak, their third of the year. They have never lost four consecutive games.
“I’m really excited to see them again in four days,” said Koprivica, WSU lone upperclassman. “I want to see how they’re going to look again because I think we’re better than they are.”
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …