SEATTLE – After seven Cougar Hardwood Classics at KeyArena, host Washington State is still perfect.
Although the seventh win – 67-56 over Pepperdine before 9,831 on Thursday – wasn’t anywhere near a perfect performance, especially down the stretch.
It was, however, workmanlike.
“I thought we played great defense, we were intense,” WSU men’s basketball coach Ken Bone said after the Cougars held Pepperdine to 35.6 percent shooting. “We executed well as far as knowing what (Pepperdine) was trying to achieve. But that last six, eight minutes was disappointing.”
Bone was referring to a final stretch in which Pepperdine cut a 21-point WSU lead down to nine at one point.
Leading 61-40 on Reggie Moore’s 3-pointer, the Cougars seemed to relax and Pepperdine finally began to find the basket, hitting four of its final five shots, converting 6 of 8 free throws and made the final score respectable.
“I thought we did really well until the last six or seven minutes, then we took out foot off the gas,” said Brock Motum, who had 11 points, six rebounds and combined with Charlie Enquist to harass the Waves’ two bigs, Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore, into 11-of-27 shooting.
“They converted a lot of close opportunities” near the end, Motum continued. “But I think we did well for a majority of the game.”
It was defense that allowed WSU to extend its win streak to six and its nonconference record to 8-4. The Cougars, who open Pac-12 play next week in the Spokane Arena by hosting Oregon, held the Waves (6-5) to 23 percent shooting and 15 points in the first half.
“They had, what, 15 in the first half? If we had done the same job in the second half, that’s a pretty good effort,” said Motum about WSU’s 26-15 halftime lead. “They had 41 in the second half and that’s just not acceptable.”
Maybe it was the halftime entertainment, which was new football coach Mike Leach. He emerged from a fog machine, walked to center court where former Cougs Robbie Tobeck and Jack Thompson waited, then spoke for a minute.
He was also talking with the media in the hallway when WSU emerged from the locker room, with some of the players acknowledging his presence.
WSU has been playing a different defense the past few weeks, with more pressure out front instead of the traditional pack principles it used since the Bennett years.
“I think that’s how the game should be played,” said point guard Reggie Moore, who had six assists on the offensive end. “It kind of fits our athleticism.
“It’s a huge adjustment, you know, because I’ve always been taught here to sit back, sit in the gaps but now I’m getting after it.”
“We’ve been trying to play containment defense and have great help, and now, all of a sudden, the last few weeks we’ve tried to pick up the intensity,” Bone said. “We knew we had some guys coming back and we could rotate some guys. I feel like we are five or six guys deep at the guard position.”
When WSU was clicking on defense, as in the first half and the first part of the second, Pepperdine struggled. In one 6-minute stretch of the second half, the Waves hit 2 of 10 shots and had three turnovers.
The Cougars scored 18 points, missing just three shots, all by leading scorer Faisal Aden, who finished with 17 on 6-of-15 shooting.
“I thought they got us sped up a couple of times when our offense got stagnant,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said. “And I thought they did a good job in the second half of getting shots for the right people at the right time.
“That’s a sign of a very well-coached team.”
It was Aden and freshman DaVonté Lacy – 15 points on 4-of-9 from the floor – that had the most attempts as Bone, with conference looming, used just nine players until down the stretch.
Despite the easy nature of the win, Bone was not satisfied.
“We have to execute our offense better, I don’t like the way we executed tonight,” Bone said. “We have to rebound better. By the end of the game, they had too many offensive boards. And, again, I think we got comfortable with a little bit of a lead.”