TUCSON, Ariz. – With 13 minutes and 43 seconds left to play Saturday in their regionally televised Pac-10 Conference basketball matchup with Arizona, the Washington State Cougars were rolling across the desert like a Lexus on Interstate 10.
Then the radiator blew.
By the time WSU got moving again, the Cougars were down 15 and Arizona was en route to a third consecutive win, this one 66-56 before 13,476 in the McKale Center and a regional television audience.
“They turned up the heat, extended their pressure and we got rattled,” disappointed WSU coach Tony Bennett said, alluding to a game-deciding, 16-0 Arizona run.
“Then our defense let down,” Bennett said. “Once that starts happening, we’re not very good. We have to be able to be held in there with our defense and it didn’t happen.”
Leading 39-32 after Taylor Rochestie’s press-breaking layup, the Cougars went the next 6:06 without scoring – a Rochestie floater – and then another 4:28 – a Rochestie 3-pointer from the left corner. In the stretch they had six turnovers and missed 10 shots, many wide open.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats, who scored 69 points in the second half against Washington on Thursday, were finally clicking on offense after shooting 31 percent in a first half that ended with WSU leading 28-23.
Chase Budinger especially got clicking.
With Daven Harmeling on the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 15:28 left, Budinger scored 10 points and assisted on six others as Arizona outscored the Cougars, 24-2 over a 10-minute span. The 6-foot-7 junior finished with 19 points after having two at intermission.
“He was getting great looks and we knew it was only a matter of time until they fell,” UA interim coach Russ Pennell said.
“I knew I had to stop settling for jump shots,” said Budinger, who had seven assists and 11 rebounds. “I had to get to the rim and get to the free-throw line and that’s what I did.”
It was Budinger’s first 3-pointer that got the McKale crowd on its feet. It came on the heels of Nic Wise’s first 3 – at the 13:25 mark, cutting WSU’s lead to 39-35 – that was followed by Nic Koprivica’s turnover at midcourt.
Budinger’s jumper from the top of the key made McKale erupt and Washington State wilt.
Rochestie, who scored all 12 of WSU’s points from the 15:21 mark until there was just more than a minute left, missed a 3-pointer and the din intensified. Jordan Hill, who finished with 16 points and a like number of rebounds, tossed in a 10-footer to give UA the lead and somehow it got louder.
“When the crowd gets behind them and they get rolling, they have all the confidence in the world,” said Rochestie, who finished with five assists and a game-high 22 points. “They’re just shooting shots with confidence and knocking them down.”
When the Cougars (12-9, 4-5) turned it over four times – stepping out of bounds twice – in the next 3 minutes and Arizona scored each time, the Wildcats (14-8, 4-5) had a dozen unanswered points, a 48-39 lead and their third consecutive win over WSU.
“It’s like having a bad dream, being in a nightmare where everything goes wrong,” said Harmeling, who hit three 3-pointers and finished with nine points, the most he’s had in Pac-10 play. “I felt like that’s what happened in the second half.”
It was so bad the Cougars couldn’t get the ball in the hands of Aron Baynes, who had just seven shots but still finished with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
“Sure, it gets frustrating being down there and not being able to touch the ball, but we have to get it over the halfcourt line first before I can have a look at it,” Baynes said.
“It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy when you start turning the ball over,” Rochestie said. “You start playing on your heels, you’re not worried about where your feet are or the open guys, you’re just worried about catching the ball, how many guys are on you, trying to break a trap.
“You’ve just to stay sound. And you’ve just got to keep looking to attack.”