PULLMAN – Dig a deep enough hole and sometimes the only thing you bury is your hopes.
The Washington State Cougars proved the point again Saturday night in a 59-52 Pac-10 Conference basketball loss to archrival Washington.
That the final margin was only seven was a testament to their new-found resilience, but the Cougars sealed their trip to the conference cellar with a flurry of missed shots in the first 20 minutes.
Not even a 23-6 stretch in the first 12-plus minutes of the second half – ultimately giving WSU a 44-41 advantage – could salvage the Cougars’ worst shooting night of the year, 29.5 percent, as they missed 43 of 61 shots.
“We didn’t make shots, we didn’t make out 3-points shots,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Washington, alone in third in the Pac-10 at 9-7, broke out to a 12-2 lead – WSU missed its first seven shots from the floor – and led by as much as 35-19 in a first half that saw the Cougars shoot 18.2 percent, by far its worst half of the season.
But the sell-out crowd of 11,671 in Beasley Coliseum was still in full throat. New athletic director Bill Moos did his best cheerleader imitation during the first media timeout – exhorting the crowd from center court – and WSU came out of the locker room ready to make some noise.
“We were down 14 but it felt like 25, because of the way we were playing,” Bone said he told his team. “But being down 14 on your home court is not the end of the world. Let’s battle back.”
“We came out (in the second half) with intensity, with a purpose on offense instead of being so stagnant,” said Klay Thompson, whose string of consecutive missed field-goal attempts stretched to 24 before he buried a 23-footer in transition at the 13-minute, 6-second mark. The sophomore finished 2 of 14, 1 of 7 beyond the arc, for five points.
Thompson’s basket, his first since the first half against UCLA a week ago Thursday, brought WSU all the way back, tying the game at 39.
The Cougars (16-12 overall, 6-10 and tied with Oregon for last in the conference) took their first lead on James Watson free throw 2 minutes later.
But that’s when WSU missed an opportunity to lay the Huskies (19-9) to rest. Its next four possessions came up empty, as two turnovers bookended misses by DeAngelo Casto, Xavier Thames and Reggie Moore.
Casto’s misfire, from close in, was a rarity, as the 6-foot-8 sophomore battled Matthew Bryan-Amaning to a draw down low, finishing with a career-high-tying 19 points – 13 in the second half. The 6-9 Bryan-Amaning finished with 17, 15 in the first half, along with a 12 rebounds.
“It just seemed like we were dodging bullets,” Bone said. “Because they had some decent looks.”
Thames stretched the Cougars’ lead to 44-41 with a drive, but given a reprieve, the Huskies caught their breath and dug in. WSU hit just three of its final 13 attempts, many as the Huskies bodied up and banged the Cougars when they attacked the rim.
“We got up a couple and I don’t know if we relaxed or what, but then we came up empty-handed,” Bone said.
“I just think our backs were against the wall and we got down and just guarded,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said.
And Isaiah Thomas started to hit shots.
The 5-8 guard was 4 of 11 when he hit a 23-footer from the wing to tie the game at 44. That shot seemed to get him going. In the final 7:30, he scored 13 of the Huskies’ 18 points.
After Thomas tied it, Casto put the Cougars back on top with a spin move in the lane, but that was followed by Scott Suggs’ only basket of the night, a 3-pointer. UW never trailed again, converting 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch.
Thomas finished with a game-high 22, taking up the slack from usual leading scorer Quincy Pondexter, who was 3 of 11 from the floor. WSU senior Nik Koprivica, playing for the last time on Friel Court, took on the challenge.
“It was senior day, so I didn’t want to let him go off and I think I did a pretty good job most of the game,” said Koprivica, who held up a sign thanking the crowd before the game and finished with six points and eight rebounds. “It was a great team effort and I think we kind of slowed him down and gave us a chance to win.”
“Our guys left it all on the court and played as hard as they could,” Bone said.
Washington 59, WSU 52
Percentages: FG .442, FT .692. 3-Point Goals: 4-17, .235 (Pondexter 1-3, Thomas 2-6, Overton 0-2, Suggs 1-3, Turner 0-3). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 4 (Bryan-Amaning 2). Turnovers: 19 (Bryan-Amaning 5). Steals: 7 (Overton 2). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .295, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 4-14, .286 (Koprivica 2-4, Thompson 1-7, Moore 0-1, Thames 1-2). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 5 (Thompson 2). Turnovers: 14 (Three tied with 3). Steals: 8 (Capers 5). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Washington 35, Washington State 21. A–11,671.