KENNEWICK – The high ball screen has become a key element in college basketball. An inside player steps out to the perimeter, a guard dribbles toward the pick and the defense must make a decision.
Step out and help. Switch. Double team. Options abound, but the right one can make the difference between winning and losing.
Such was the case Saturday night at Kennewick’s Toyota Arena, site of the Washington State Cougars’ second consecutive off-campus home game.
WSU made the right decisions, executed on both ends of the court and ran away from Portland State 93-69 before 6,286 surprisingly loud WSU supporters and behind a school-record 13 of 16 (81.8 percent) beyond the arc.
“I was wide open for most of my shots,” said Nik Koprivica, who scored a career-high 23 points on a perfect night: 6 for 6 from the floor and free-throw line, 5 of 5 beyond the arc. “Guys were just finding me, I was just spotting (up) and it just happened that I knocked them down.”
Koprivica and the player he backs up, starting power forward Abe Lodwick, took advantage of Portland State’s inability to guard the high ball screen.
Lodwick hit 5 of 6 shots, including three 3-pointers without a miss, en route to a career-high 13 points.
When wing Klay Thompson or point guard Reggie Moore came off the high ball screen, usually both Vikings went with the ball, leaving the screener open. Thompson started slowly, not scoring in the game’s first 16 minutes, 28 seconds, but he finished with 23 points.
“We tried to screen and relocate and see if the guy had an open look,” said WSU coach Ken Bone, who spent the past four years on the PSU bench, with current Viking head coach Tyler Geving sitting next to him. “Tonight it was there.
“We shared the ball extremely well … (and) we had open looks.”
Making the extra pass when needed, the Cougars shot 63.5 percent from the floor, with assists on 25 of their 33 baskets. As usual, Moore set the tone, setting a career high in assists (12) for the second consecutive game.
“I thought we would be able to contain Reggie Moore, and we didn’t” Gevin said of WSU’s freshman. “I mean, he dominated the game. He was 1 for 4 (shooting) and scored four points, but he dominated.”
The same could be said of the WSU defense. It was how the Cougars handled the high ball screen that made the difference.
Instead of trying to fight through or double, WSU switched, changing defenders every time Portland State (5-6) set an on-ball screen.
“Their game is predicated on hitting 3s,” Bone said. “The priority for us in the halfcourt was to stop them from getting good looks from the arc.”
The Vikings, using the system Bone is trying to install in Pullman, came in shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers and 51 percent overall. Forced out of their comfort zone, they finished at 33.3 and 43.5 percent, respectively. With PSU missing so many shots, rebounds were plentiful, and DeAngelo Casto grabbed 12 of them as WSU had a 36-26 edge.
One of those guards, 6-1 Dominic Waters, seemed to handle the WSU pressure, hitting half of his 14 shots and scoring a team-high 19 points.
But PSU’s answer to the Cougars’ scheme was to shove the ball inside and it worked to an extent, with bigs Julius Thomas and Jamie Jones combining for 20 points, hitting 10 of 16 shots. However, that’s not how PSU has shot its way into the NCAA tournament the last two seasons.
Washington St. 93, Portland St. 69
Percentages: FG .635, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 8-24, .333 (Waters 3-5, M. Jones 2-4, Nelson 2-6, Johnson 1-3, Brandon 0-3, Thomas 0-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Thomas 2). Turnovers: 12 (Waters 4, Nelson 3, J. Jones 2, Guede, Johnson, Harriel). Steals: 4 (Nelson, J. Jones, Guede, Thomas). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .635, FT .737. 3-Point Goals: 13-16, .813 (Koprivica 5-5, Thompson 4-6, Lodwick 3-3, Moore 1-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 3 (Casto 3). Turnovers: 14 (Capers 3, Thompson 3, Casto 2, Lodwick 2, Bjornstad, Allen, Harthun). Steals: 5 (Thompson 2, Moore, Watson, Allen). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–WSU 44, Portland State 33. A–6,286.