LOS ANGELES – Over the past few weeks, Washington State has avoided what had been its Achilles’ heel most of the season – the long scoring drought.
It came back Thursday night with a vengeance.
And it happened early in the Cougars’ 64-53 loss to UCLA in the Pac-10 men’s basketball quarterfinals at the Staples Center, ending any hope WSU (17-15) had of earning the conference’s automatic NCAA berth.
Over almost 7 minutes in front of a crowd listed as 16,271, the Cougars missed 12 consecutive shots.
UCLA took advantage, turning many of the errant attempts into fast-break baskets and a 5-4 deficit into a 25-5 game-deciding lead.
“Man, we got some good looks,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said of the stretch. “We were right there and the ball wouldn’t go in.”
Bennett could have been referring to one possession early in the 21-0 run.
In it, Aron Baynes and DeAngelo Casto played volleyball on the glass, only to miss four point-blank attempts. Finally, Darren Collison came out with the ball and threw it ahead to Michael Roll. He found Josh Shipp on a wing and UCLA’s senior nailed a 3-pointer.
It was only 14-5 for UCLA, but it seemed like more, and it soon would be.
“We had a lot of open looks, looks that normally go down for us, and we were just unable to finish them tonight,” said Baynes, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. “It gave us a big gap to overcome.”
“Just effort,” Shipp said of the early run. “Whenever a team comes out with that great effort and they’re able to get out to an early lead that builds pressure, you can turn them over and get fast-break points.”
That’s exactly what happened. The Cougars started taking quick shots. The misses and mistakes – WSU also had three turnovers in the run – served to ignite the 15th-ranked Bruins’ break. UCLA (25-7) scored a third of the streak’s points in transition.
“We got sped up by their pressure,” Bennett said. “We needed to have a little more composure and let the ball swing and work the offense a little bit. And then tough, unified defensive possessions were few and far between.”
With the win, the Bruins avenged an 82-81 home defeat at the Cougars’ hands just 19 days ago.
“You beat us at our place, we’re going to show you, can you handle this,” said Bennett of UCLA’s mindset. “And we couldn’t. That was disappointing.”
In the earlier game, Taylor Rochestie scored a career-high 33 points, hitting nine shots, including five 3-pointers.
This time he was part of the struggle, missing all five of his first-half attempts – WSU shot 20.6 percent as a team, 30 percent for the game – and finishing 1 of 11 for eight points.
Klay Thompson, who had burned Jrue Holiday often enough early in the Pauley Pavilion game that Holiday sat most of the second half, couldn’t shake the UCLA freshman this time.
Thompson finished with five points, hitting just one of his first eight shots and 2 of 11 overall. He also had eight rebounds but four turnovers as WSU had 10 overall.
“We played at their tempo,” Baynes said. “We let them play how they wanted to play. We can’t afford to do that.”
Thompson’s only 3-pointer broke the long early drought and it keyed a 12-3 run that brought WSU back within 28-17. The margin stayed in that range through halftime, with Rochestie’s first – and only – 3 of the night cutting the lead to 33-24 right after halftime.
But the Bruins, behind Collison, who despite nursing a sore tailbone had 15 points, strung together seven consecutive points. WSU didn’t get it in single digits again until Caleb Forrest’s 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds left cut the lead to 59-51.
“Did we?” Bennett said when asked how WSU got back into it at the end. “It resembled a little more of what we needed to do from the start.”
Now Washington State will have to wait for Sunday to see if it gets invited to the National Invitational Tournament or if the postseason will consist of one of the other two, less-established ones.
“The season’s not over,” Rochestie said. “The season’s definitely not over. … I want to make the NIT. I think we’re good enough. If that’s the case, I want to go to Madison Square Garden (for the Final Four). I want to compete with these guys as long as I can.”
UCLA 64, WSU 53
|Washington State (17-15)||Min||M-A||M-A||O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .300, FT .722. 3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Harthun 1-1, Forrest 1-2, Thompson 1-5, Rochestie 1-6, Harmeling 0-1). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 4 (Baynes 4). Turnovers: 10 (Thompson 4). Steals: 5 (Forrest, Rochestie 2). Technical Fouls: Casto.
Percentages: FG .396, FT .833. 3-Point Goals: 1-4, .429 (Holiday 2-2, Shipp 2-5, Collison 1-3, Keefe 1-1, Roll 0-1, Dragovic 0-2). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 1 (Dragovic). Turnovers: 10 (Dragovic, Aboya, Holiday 2). Steals: 7 (Aboya 3). Technical Fouls: Gordon.
Halftime–UCLA 33, Washington State 21. A–16,271.
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