SEATTLE – For everyone trying to figure out this edition of the Washington State Cougars, Sunday night gave you a clearer picture.
When the Cougars are focused, they can compete with the Pac-10’s best.
That picture showed clearly once more at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, as they built a 21-point lead midway through the second half and weathered a furious Washington rally to post the 80-69 upset before a sellout crowd of 10,000.
The win, WSU’s second this season over the Huskies, lifted the Cougars to 18-10 overall but, more importantly, 8-8 in conference play. That puts them alone in sixth place – the final spot that earns a day off at the Pac-10 tournament – going into the season’s final week.
All this a week after a disappointing 71-69 loss at last-place Arizona State.
“You could see it in some people’s eyes, the focus was there,” said post DeAngelo Casto, who battled UW’s twin towers of Matthew Bryan-Amaning (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Aziz N’Diaye (6 and 9) to a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“We really got focused,” said point guard Reggie Moore, who added 10 points and four assists while turning the ball over only twice in 36 pressure-filled minutes matched up with UW’s pesky guards – and his friends – Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton.
“We sat down as a team (this week) and really got our goals together,” Moore continued. “Really got our mind set.”
Moore said the refocus was forced by the ASU defeat. The players talked among themselves, they talked with the coaches and on Friday they listened to baseball coach Donnie Marbut for 50 minutes, a different voice that helped them focus, Marcus Capers said.
It all seemed to work as WSU handed the Huskies their first home defeat after 13 wins.
“To compete in this building, you really have to be locked in and focused,” said coach Ken Bone, who should know, having served here as an assistant. “And I think our guys were.”
Maybe too much early, Bone admitted, as both teams struggled in the first half, combining to miss 45 shots, turn the ball over 19 times and give up 20 offensive rebounds – 14 grabbed by UW.
The result was a 24-17 Washington State lead, the Huskies’ total – built on 22.2 percent shooting –a halftime low for a Lorenzo Romar-coached UW team.
Part of the UW troubles could be traced to the Cougars’ switching defense, playing zone after their made baskets and man-to-man other possessions.
“You just didn’t see (the zone) because we weren’t making any baskets,” Bone said.
But the second half was different. More of an up-and-down, take-the-first-good-shot type of game. And many of them went in, first for the Cougars, who scored 31 points in the first 9 minutes, 14 seconds after halftime.
Klay Thompson had 10 of those (en route to a game-high 26), but Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum and Casto also chipped in.
When Moore rose up and buried a 23-footer eight minutes into the second half, WSU led 55-34. It was the high-water mark.
At that point, UW was 3 of 20 from beyond the arc. The Huskies (19-9, 10-6 in the Pac-10) then hit five of their last seven. And the lead dwindled to six, 65-59, after Overton hit one of two free throws with 4:06 remaining.
Moore hit both free throws after being fouled by Thomas – part of a stretch of 25 consecutive WSU nailed on a 32-of-36 night – and the lead was eight again.
Washington State 80, Washington 69
Percentages: FG .396, FT .889. 3-Point Goals: 6-21, .286 (Thompson 3-7, Lodwick 2-5, Moore 1-3, Motum 0-1, Aden 0-5). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 1 (Thompson). Turnovers: 14 (Thompson 6, Casto 2, Moore 2, Aden, Motum, Lodwick, Capers). Steals: 5 (Casto 2, Aden, Capers, Thompson). Technical Fouls: Capers.
Percentages: FG .338, FT .625. 3-Point Goals: 8-27, .296 (Holiday 3-7, Thomas 3-8, Overton 1-4, Wilcox 1-4, Gant 0-1, Ross 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Bryan-Amaning, N’Diaye, Thomas, Gant). Turnovers: 16 (Holiday 4, Gant 3, N’Diaye 3, Bryan-Amaning 3, Thomas 2, Overton). Steals: 5 (Bryan-Amaning 2, Thomas, Wilcox, Overton). Technical Fouls: Overton, Bench.
Halftime—Washington State 24-17. A—10,000.