FROM BOULDER, Colo. -- So, what was the deal with Dexter Kernich-Drew starting ahead of Reggie Moore today? Read on as we empty out the notebook following Washington State's 71-60 loss to Colorado on Saturday.
The focus of my game story, which you can read on the link, was WSU’s extensive use of a 2-3 matchup zone for the third consecutive game. It worked well against Oregon State in a win. It was ineffective against Utah in a loss Thursday. And it really seemed that Colorado had no problem moving the ball around the perimeter and finding open shooters on Saturday, even though they couldn’t make many of those attempts in the first half.
Once those shots started falling, though, it was lights out. Coach Ken Bone said afterward he didn’t consider switching to man-to-man sooner, or else “we would have.” He’s quoted in my game story as saying he simply thought zone was the way to play the Buffaloes, which is a bit curious considering how well they shoot the 3-pointer (39.6 percent entering the game, 21st in the nation).
I asked Dexter Kernich-Drew, who made his first career start (more on that below), why the Cougars thought the zone would be more effective than man-to-man.
“They use the on-ball pretty well, especially when people don’t shift over,” Kernich-Drew said. “We were hoping that our guards and men at the bottom could get at the shooters, but they just moved the ball really well and quick, and we weren’t able to get as quick as we wanted out to the shooters.”
It’s understandable that WSU wouldn’t want to play straight-up against a team that specializes in on-ball screens, because that’s something the Cougars have struggled to defend all season. But it seemed that after Carlon Brown finally forced WSU out of its zone, the Cougars became much more active in their man-to-man defense and that’s part of what sparked that mini-run toward the end that got them on the verge of a comeback. Bone said the Cougars tried to pick up the speed of the game in the second half, and I think they did eventually succeed there.
Of course, credit should be given to Colorado. This is clearly a good basketball team, or at least a much better one than most anticipated. The Buffs were voted tied for 10th in the preseason Pac-12 media poll with the Cougars, but they’ve won six in a row now and are the lone unbeaten remaining in conference play. Their guards handle the ball well, they share well and they shoot well. They’ve got solid big men in Andre Roberson and Austin Dufault, both of whom can create in the post and shoot from the outside. They hit the offensive glass, too, which can be particularly maddening for a team that shoots as well as they do – Colorado wound up with a lot of second chances despite all of its misses from the outside early on.
“I’ve said it from the beginning, and I think we have a good zone offensive team,” Buffs coach Tad Boyle said. “I think our guys can pass it and shoot it. I remembered I looked to our staff at one point, after Carlon made a three against their zone in the second half and said, ‘that’s why you recruit shooters.’ We have to recruit shooters because if you don’t have a guy to shoot teams out of zones, then it can get real frustrating.”
Brown, who made only two of eight 3-point attempts in the first half, said all he could do was keep shooting.
“I thought all my shots were there in the first half. I probably had one ‘I feel bad’ miss, but my teammates kept telling me to keep shooting and they got me when I was open,” Brown said. “I just had to keep confidence in myself because they were playing zone, and the only way to get them out of a zone is to make shots, and I think I did that and the rest of the team did that as well.”
Bone also lamented the team's transition defense. Colorado only had eight fast-break points, but it used WSU's early turnovers to get numbers going the other way and set up open shots from outside. WSU cleaned it up in the second half, turning the ball over just four times for 13 total. The Buffs coughed it up 14 times, and WSU actually scored more points off turnovers (15) than Colorado (13). The difference was Colorado's shooting in the second half, and its ability to maintain a lead in the first despite not getting those shots to fall.
The only real personnel item to come out of the game was that junior guard Reggie Moore didn’t start for the first time this season. Bone said afterward that no disciplinary issues were involved. He just wanted to change things up after WSU’s loss to Utah.
“Just tried a new lineup,” Bone said. “We got beat against Utah the other night, and thought let’s mix it up a little bit. I’m sure he’ll be back in the starting lineup.
“Dexter’s done a good job, he just gets minimal minutes. But we like his length, we like his athleticism,” Bone said. “We thought against this team we needed that.”
Said Moore: “Just coach’s decision. Something to help spark up the team a little bit.”
Kernich-Drew made a pair of 3-pointers to finish with six points in 14 minutes.
Moore led WSU with 14 points off the bench, and he still played 27 minutes, third-most on the team. Faisal Aden chipped in 12 points to help WSU’s bench outscore Colorado’s 32-5.
Moore took a team-high 12 shots, and initiated WSU’s late run by scoring 10 points in the final 9:14. He said afterward that Bone has been urging him to be more aggressive offensively, and that was his goal today.
There’s something to be said for the fact that WSU didn’t pack it in when down by 22 points in the second half.
“Nobody believes in moral victories, but we could have put our head down and got blown out of the gym,” Moore said. “Home court, up 20, they had all of the momentum. The crowd started standing up. We could have bowed down, but we didn’t.”
Said Marcus Capers: “We showed that we can fight. If we can do that the whole game, we can shock some people. I know we’re down right now, but as long as we fight, stay together – that’s what you saw when we were coming back. We were coming together as a team. That’s all we’ve got to do.”
That’s all I’ve got for now, other than this link to Ryan Thorburn's game story in the Daily Camera. No morning post tomorrow, since we’ve got an early flight out of Denver back to Spokane. Going to be another long travel day.