PULLMAN – The deck was stacked, the cards marked, the draw fixed.
But, despite the odds, Washington State coach Ken Bone decided to go all in Saturday.
Even missing a pair of kings, leading scorer Klay Thompson and point guard Reggie Moore, out due to suspension (Thompson, pot bust) and injury (Moore, right ankle sprain).
So Bone shuffled his lineup, inserting senior Ben Loewen, a 6-foot walk-on from Mead High, who had played all of 34 minutes this year.
He pulled out a rarely used high-post offense featuring back cuts and screens. He had the Cougars trap, double and fly around on defense, and they led by as many as 15 just before halftime.
But, in the end, UCLA held all the aces, even if it didn’t play them until down the stretch, scoring five of the last six points in regulation to tie and the last two in overtime to survive, 58-54.
“They definitely left it on the court, gave 45 minutes of great effort,” Bone said, paying his team the ultimate coaching compliment. But after looking at all the minutes his core players played, Bone added, “at the end that (took) a toll on us.”
Thursday night’s arrest took a toll on the Thompson’s reputation, but the junior who averages 21.4 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, took the first step back before the game, addressing the crowd to apologize, accept his mistake and acknowledge “I let you down.”
Then his teammates took the floor and tried to pick him up.
“Not a lot of people thought we could win this game,” said Loewen, who played a career-high 21 minutes, “but everyone in that locker room thought we could win it.”
And the other one too. By halftime, at least.
WSU (19-11 overall, 9-9 at the end of the Pac-10’s regular season) shot 48 percent, got free for seven layups, out-rebounded UCLA 18-14, held the Bruins to 7-of-25 from the floor, 0-for-8 beyond the arc and led 32-19.
“Guys were just focused and they were buying into what we were supposed to do,” said Abe Lodwick, who took a career-high 10 shots and finished with nine points.
“We executed really well and we saw it working,” he added of the offense WSU ran. “It got us some easy buckets.”
But the Bruins didn’t finish second in the Pac-10 (at 13-5) by giving up. They’ve come from behind at halftime to win five times in conference – including Saturday.
UCLA strung together a 13-1 run spanning halftime and all its scores came within a foot of the basket against WSU’s man-to-man.
“They got the ball to the guys they wanted to and usually it was right by the rim,” Bone said.
WSU switched back to a zone – it used both in the first half – but UCLA still pulled into a tie at 35 with 12 minutes left on a Tyler Honeycutt 3-pointer, the Bruins first of the night.
And they took a 43-39 lead less than 5 minutes later. The Cougars were fatigued and it showed.
But the 9,317 in Beasley Coliseum, many of whom chanted “one more year” to Thompson at halftime, kept up the noise.
Marcus Capers and Faisal Aden scored to tie it and then Brock Motum took charge.
Motum, who finished with 15, hit a long jumper and drove past Reeves Nelson for another score to put WSU up four with 4:24 left. And then there was a nearly 4 minute drought for both teams.
Honeycutt, who was 4 for 11 from the floor, hit his second 3 with 49.6 remaining and UCLA was within 47-46.
DeAngelo Casto attacked inside and missed, but Aden, who had already played as many minutes as he had at any time this year, was fouled.
“When he got fouled and went to the line, I was excited for the fact he was at the line,” said Bone, despite Aden’s 4-for-17 shooting night. “Again, that probably goes back to fatigue.”
Aden missed the first and made the second. WSU led 48-46 and was 14.6 seconds from an upset.
But Malcolm Lee, who was 2-of-10 from the floor, drove and was fouled by Casto with 8.9 seconds left. The junior, nursing a sore knee, made both.
Without Moore or Thompson as options, the ball went to Aden and his long jumper missed.
“At that time of the game, you’ve got to attack the rim, just like UCLA did,” Bone said.
UCLA did just that the first two possessions of overtime and Nelson scored the last of his game-high 23 points. When Aden missed another free throw and Honeycutt scored, the Bruins led 54-49.
But Lodwick drove and scored, Aden drained a 3 and it was tied at 54. There was 1:20 left. And, when Casto blocked Josh Smith’s putback, forcing a shot-clock violation, there were 45 seconds left. And WSU had the ball.
“His or Klay’s,” Bone answered when asked in it would have been in Moore’s hands. “Definitely one of those two. Tonight we didn’t have those guys out there, it’s a couple other kids who are trying to make those plays, but don’t have quite the experience.”
As the clock ran down, Capers passed to Motum at the high post. But Honeycutt poked the ball free, Nelson picked it up and found Lee ahead of the pack. Capers fouled him with 6.9 remaining, but he made both again.
When Capers and Lodwick misfired on the in-bounds pass, Lee was fouled once more. He made both with 3 seconds left and UCLA had its 18th consecutive road win against the Cougars.
“He stepped up there and drilled those free throws,” Bone said, before pointing out WSU’s 8-of-14 effort from the line. “Tonight was one of those nights we didn’t do that as well as we usually do.”
The loss means WSU, the sixth-seed, will meet third-seeded Washington at 8:30 Thursday night in the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson’s availability, Bone said, will be decided soon. Moore’s will rest on his recovery.
“I’m proud of the effort,” Lodwick said. “We just kind of banded together. Obviously we wish we would have gotten a W, but you can’t hang your head about this. We’ve got games coming up we’ve got to get ready for.”
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