PULLMAN – There is one opponent that seems to wear down college basketball players with a mind-numbing consistency.
“I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I sincerely cannot remember feeling good coaching a game right after finals,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said Sunday evening.
And that was after his Cougars had won their fifth consecutive nonconference game, a seemingly easy 66-42 decision over Western Oregon before a student-deprived crowd of 2,318 at Beasley Coliseum.
But the Division II Wolves, members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference who came in on a nine-game winning streak, gave Washington State a test for the first 20 minutes.
When the teams headed to the locker room at half, WSU (7-4) led just 28-25 and had more turnovers against WOU’s matchup zone (10) than baskets (nine). Even though finals ended Friday, the Cougars knew that math wouldn’t earn a passing grade.
“We didn’t play with the energy we needed to,” Bone said, “but the turnovers were very disappointing. I forget exactly how many we had at halftime, but it was too many.”
The Cougars came in averaging 15 a game and that carelessness was intensified early by the introduction of three players who hadn’t played much during their recent win streak.
With the return of Abe Lodwick, out all season with a broken foot, Mike Ladd, out five games with a sprained thumb, and Faisal Aden, out three with a concussion, the Cougars’ rotations changed, with the trio combining for 26 first-half minutes.
“It’s always a new challenge when you’re bringing a guy back into the mix, but when you’re bringing in three guys back in, it can disrupt the continuity of what’s been going on,” Bone said.
Western Oregon (9-2) also had a hand in the disruption, with the Wolves’ three-, four- and sometimes five-guard sets pressuring WSU into failed decisions.
All that changed at halftime. The Cougars began operating their offense closer to the rim – they had 11 attempts within a foot in the second half – and the shots began to fall.
With Marcus Capers leading the way with nine points – the first time the senior has led WSU in scoring – on four dunks and a free throw, and 6-foot-10 Charlie Enquist making all three of his attempts, WSU converted half its field goal attempts, including 13 of 23 after halftime. The Cougars also had just five turnovers.
“The second half we were more poised,” Capers said. “We had seen (the WOU zone), so we moved the ball and attacked more.”
Post D.J. Shelton exemplified the attack philosophy late, switching out and blocking a 3-pointer, gathering in the loose ball and going coast-to-coast, though the finish wasn’t pretty.
“It looked to me like he lost his balance, threw it up and it went through the hoop,” Bone said of Shelton’s last of seven points.
Very little of what Western Oregon threw up in the second half went through the hoop, as the Wolves, who won in the Bay Area on Saturday afternoon and didn’t arrive in Pullman until noon Sunday, missed 19 of 23 second-half shot attempts.
“I think they just ran out of gas,” Bone said.
Western Oregon was still within nine with nearly 13 minutes left before the tank ran dry. A 15-2 run – including Lodwick’s first bucket of the year, a 24-footer from the top – ensured the Cougars could coast to the finish line.
WSU 66, W. Oregon 42
Percentages: FG .261, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 4-17, .235 (Troxel 1-1, Long 1-3, Veal 1-4, Wheadon 1-6, Freelander 0-1, Nelson 0-1, McGill 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Veal, Nelson). Turnovers: 18 (Wheadon 3, Troxel 3, Gehring 3, White 3, Freelander 2, Veal, McGill, Nelson, Long). Steals: 7 (Wheadon 4, Freelander, White, Long). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .500, FT .591. 3-Point Goals: 9-22, .409 (Ladd 2-2, Lacy 2-6, Lodwick 1-1, Kernich-Drew 1-3, Moore 1-3, Aden 1-3, Simon 1-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Shelton 2, Motum 2). Turnovers: 15 (Motum 3, Aden 3, Lacy 2, Ladd 2, Capers 2, Moore, Shelton, Kernich-Drew). Steals: 5 (Ladd 2, Motum, Moore, Lodwick). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—WSU 28-25. A—2,318.