STANFORD, Calif. – It was right there – an upset victory over the nation’s eighth-ranked men’s basketball team before 7,329 at Maples Pavilion.
On Stanford’s senior day, no less.
It was right there for the Washington State Cougars on Saturday.
Then the Stanford Cardinal reached over them and wrested it away.
The final score was 60-53 Stanford, but the seven-point margin doesn’t reflect the devastating nature of the defeat.
“We are pretty bummed about this one,” said an obviously drained senior Robbie Cowgill in the hallway outside WSU’s somber locker room, “because we felt like we, I don’t know, just felt like we were going to get it.”
Especially after the way it started, with the Cougars jumping to a 11-1 lead, building a 14-point margin late in the first half – matching the Cardinal’s largest deficit in their 24-4 season – and leading 33-22 at halftime after hitting 13 of 26 shots, including 4 of 8 on 3-pointers.
But you have to play the second half.
“Last I checked, you’ve got to be able to play for 40 minutes,” a hoarse WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “We certainly didn’t do that.”
Size – in the form of twin 7-footers, Robin and Brook Lopez – matters late in college basketball games, as does attitude.
“I felt like we were the more physical team in the first half,” Cowgill said, “then they were in the second half. That was the difference.”
He got an amen from Cardinal coach Trent Johnson.
“For the most part, I just said, ‘Hey, they played extremely well,’ ” Johnson said he told his team at halftime. “They were the aggressor, regardless of what was going on. We just need to find a way to ease back into this thing, possession by possession.”
The path they found wound around the basket.
The Cardinal, 13-3 and one-half game behind UCLA atop the Pac-10 standings, scored 12 second-half field goals. All but three came from within 5 feet of the basket, though two of the longer-range shots playing crucial roles.
The Cougars, meanwhile, had but seven baskets after intermission, including none in the final 6 minutes, 51 seconds.
“We probably got a little stagnant,” Bennett said, noting WSU shot 29.2 percent after halftime. “That seems to happen to us at times. All of a sudden guys stop moving, sharing the ball.
“I don’t mind if they are going to be aggressive with the dribble, but there were times we (weren’t). Sometimes fatigue has something to do with that. It was a pretty physical game.”
When Taylor Rochestie scored the last of his nine points on a high-arcing drive over Robin Lopez at the 6:51 mark, WSU led 51-46.
Washington State had a chance to extend that lead twice, but Cowgill couldn’t finish among the Stanford trees on one possession and Rochestie missed a late-shot-clock 3-pointer on the next.
Given a reprieve, Robin Lopez did what he did the entire final 20 minutes, powering inside for a basket, two of his 19 second-half points and 25 total. After Derrick Low, who had 14 first-half points and zero in the second, missed his third consecutive shot, 6-8 Taj Finger, one of four seniors honored before the game, nailed a 21-footer, only Stanford’s second 3-pointer.
Tied at 51, the teams traded free throws, with Fred Washington’s first of two – he missed the second – giving Stanford its first lead at 52-51, before Kyle Weaver grabbed it back with two on the other end.
But that would be it. The Cardinal hit the offensive glass, grabbing two of their 11 in the next two possessions – sandwiched around a Weaver turnover – and Brook scored on both second chances. With the Cougars missing their final seven shots, the four-point lead did nothing but grow.
“From about the 10-minute mark on in the second half, that is about as good of defense as we have played all season,” Johnson said.
Besides Brook’s game-high 25 points, brother Robin added 11. The two also combined for 10 rebounds and six blocks.
“It’s a unique thing, two 7-footers, they’re skilled then they just bang the glass,” Cowgill said. “It just makes it a physical battle in there.”
A battle the 22nd-ranked Cougars (22-7, 10-7) couldn’t win, considering they were playing much of the game without weapons.
Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest and Weaver all picked up two fouls in the first half, forcing WSU to use reserve Chris Henry and a hobbled Daven Harmeling for a combined six ineffective minutes.
Forrest, 6-8 and 228 pounds, threw his body around for 15 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing two rebounds and taking a second-half charge from Robin Lopez as the 255-pounder roared to the hoop for a dunk.
“It hurt,” Forrest said.
So did the foul trouble. The 6-10, 270-pound Baynes, WSU’s lone inside player big enough to bang with the Lopez twins, picked up a third early in half, then two late that may have turned the outcome.
Stanford 60, Wash. St. 53
Percentages: FG .400, FT .900. 3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Low 3-9, Rochestie 1-4, Baynes 0-1, Weaver 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Baynes 2, Low, Weaver). Turnovers: 9 (Weaver 3, Cowgill 2, Baynes, Rochestie, Koprivica, Forrest). Steals: 2 (Cowgill, Weaver). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .444, FT .720. 3-Point Goals: 2-7, .286 (Finger 1-1, Hill 1-1, Johnson 0-1, Shiller 0-1, Goods 0-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 6 (B.Lopez 4, R.Lopez 2). Turnovers: 8 (R.Lopez 3, Hill 2, B.Lopez, Washington, Johnson). Steals: 3 (Hill 2, Goods). Technical Fouls: Stanford team. Halftime—WSU 33, Stanford 22. A—7,329.