PULLMAN – Three games into the basketball season, the Washington State Cougars figured it was time to announce their presence. To themselves.
The Idaho Vandals just happened to be in the way.
“We wanted to make a statement, I think to ourselves,” said senior forward Robbie Cowgill after the ninth-ranked Cougars stifled Idaho 74-43 Friday night. “We wanted to prove to ourselves we are a better defensive team then we showed (last Tuesday night) at Boise.”
They showed themselves, they showed their coach, and they showed the 8,116 in Beasley Coliseum.
It started in the first 5 minutes, 55 seconds, all of which passed without Idaho (1-2) putting the ball in the basket. It continued in stretches throughout the first half, a half in which undefeated WSU held UI to 39 percent shooting and 24 points.
It reached its peak during the first 5:35 of the second half, when the Vandals again went scoreless, en route to a half in which they had more turnovers (10) than made baskets (eight) and shot just 31 percent from the floor.
“We came with a better mentality on the defensive end of the floor,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought we were more cohesive if you want to put it that way. We were very fragmented (in Boise) … but tonight there was more of an us-against-the-ball kind of mentality.
“For large stretches (of the game) we got back to playing the type of defense that will give us a chance. There were still some breakdowns, but for the most part (the defense) showed up.”
As did the offense … again. Though, unlike the 86-74 win at Boise, it wasn’t just the Derrick Low show.
Low, the senior guard who had 26 points against the Broncos, did his part against UI. Despite missing all but 6 minutes of the first half with foul trouble, he still finished with a team-high 12 points. Still, he was but one of six Cougars in double figures, including the other four starters (Aron Baynes with 12, Cowgill, Kyle Weaver and Taylor Rochestie, 10 apiece) and sixth-man Daven Harmeling (10).
The offensive balance was complemented by a rebounding balance – WSU held a 38-26 edge, led by Baynes’ eight and Cowgill’s seven – and a 22-point edge from the free-throw line.
“They were physical,” said Weaver, possibly explaining the free-throw discrepancy, “and we need that, as a team, to get pushed around, get shoved a little bit. … There are a lot of teams out there that will get physical, especially against us.”
But it wasn’t the defensive end that doomed the Vandals. Just like last Tuesday, when the Vandals scored just 13 second-half points against 14th-ranked Gonzaga, it was the offensive lulls that killed them.
“In this environment … you can’t go five and a half minutes without a bucket,” UI coach George Pfeifer said. “You gotta make a basket. A lot of that had something to do with them, a lot of it had something to do with us.
“There were some times in there we had good looks at the basket … (but) I thought early in the game we had a little bit to do with it because we got in a real rush – took some quick shots that didn’t go in.”
Jordan Brooks, one of seven new players in Idaho uniforms this season, was the only one in double figures (14 points) and the only Vandal who shot better than 50 percent (6 of 11 from the floor).
He knows why they are struggling on offense and he has an idea how to fix it.
“Everybody wants to do it by themselves,” he said.
“They’re giving their own individual efforts, but we need to come together as a team.”