PULLMAN – If these games wind up being close, Washington State coach Ken Bone says, at least his team will be prepared for the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule.
That’s why Bone had no problem with the Cougars winning a tight one against Idaho last week. But he’s likely not real upset with WSU’s 72-60 blitzing of Portland on Saturday at Beasley Coliseum, either.
And it wasn’t really that close. WSU led by 24 points with four minutes left, then subbed in walk-ons and deep bench players before the Pilots chopped the margin in half.
Brock Motum led the Cougars (5-3) with 29 points, moving into 21st place on WSU’s career scoring list past Thomas Kelati. And it was Motum’s six consecutive points early in the second half that kept Portland from getting closer than 39-33, and helped WSU accelerate into an easy nonconference victory.
“He earned those,” Bone said of Motum’s point total, which came on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line. “I thought he was getting banged around pretty good, but he just fought through it.”
WSU’s 19-3 run early in the first half didn’t hurt, either. Sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, who finished with a career-high 20 points, initiated that onslaught by making a 3-pointer, then sinking a pair of free throws before following a steal with an and-one layup.
Woolridge also grabbed seven rebounds – WSU held a 45-27 edge in that department – and had three assists without turning the ball over, a welcome turnaround from his 0-for-8 shooting performance against the Idaho Vandals.
“After missing all those shots against Idaho, it finally felt good to see one go in,” Woolridge said.
Spokane native Ryan Nicholas’ 3-pointer with 12:07 left in the half was Portland’s only field goal during a nearly 11-minute span. WSU’s largest lead was 29-12 before Portland closed the half on an 11-4 run, though the Pilots shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half.
And Portland made things semi-interesting early in the second. Nicholas scored eight points in under two minutes – thanks in part to a technical foul against Bone – to help trim WSU’s lead to 39-33.
That must have been Motum’s cue. He scored two baskets and made a pair of free throws before Portland scored again, and scored five points as part of a 13-2 WSU run a few minutes later that pushed the Cougars ahead 60-42 and sent fans toward the exits.
And, Bone lamented, it also may have affected the way the Cougars played.
“There were times I thought we played to the score,” Bone said, “and that’s irritating.”
Still, the Cougars led comfortably when Bone emptied the bench, eventually sending walk-on guards Bryce Leavitt, Dominic Ballard and Keaton Hayenga into the game, as well as seldom-used center James Hunter.
That was when Portland made its game-ending 13-1 run, making this one look much closer than it really was. Nicholas, who played at Gonzaga Prep, led Portland with 17 points and shot 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
The scene could be a little different the next time WSU takes the floor. Unbeaten and 12th-ranked Gonzaga comes to Pullman for an 8 p.m. game Wednesday, the second time this season the Cougars will face a top-15 team.
The first time didn’t go so well, with Kansas pounding WSU 78-41 in Kansas City on Nov. 19.
“Any time a ranked opponent comes in here it’s a big challenge,” Motum said. “And I think we’ll be up to the challenge on Wednesday.”
Said Bone: “We are aware of what a team of that caliber can do to our team if we’re not ready to go.”