EUGENE, Ore. – A different kind of frustration was felt outside Washington State’s locker room at Matthew Knight Arena on Saturday afternoon.
This was still a loss, 78-69 to the Oregon Ducks before 10,071 spectators. And it still had to be maddening to watch Oregon make 11 of its 20 attempts from 3-point range, a shooting display similar to its 92-75 win over WSU that opened conference play.
More encouraging, though, is that the Cougars can leave Oregon with a split of this weekend road trip, having played quality basketball in each game and taking to the wire a Ducks team that blew them out earlier this season.
A loss is a loss, but this one at least came with a silver lining.
“I thought we actually did a lot of good things today,” coach Ken Bone said, “and that’s what we shared with the guys in the locker room.”
WSU (13-12, 5-8 Pac-12) wasn’t particularly bad in any area. The Ducks (18-7, 9-4) were just particularly good, especially from 3-point range, as E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim fired away and kept the Cougars from ever putting together a series of defensive stops.
Singler scored 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting (4-for 6 from 3), but it was a shot by Sim that finally put WSU away. Singler had made a 3-pointer with 3:34 left in the game to put Oregon ahead by five points, but WSU guard Mike Ladd answered with a bucket to cut it back to three.
Then Sim found himself wide open on the perimeter after catching a pass from Singler. The Oregon guard nailed a 3-pointer, pushing Oregon’s lead to 70-64 with 2:40 remaining.
WSU, which shot 50 percent from the field, didn’t come closer than five points after that.
“I don’t want to say that took the wind out of our sail, because I think we kept battling,” Bone said. “But it ended up being a huge three by them.”
The Cougars kept up with the Ducks from the start, unlike earlier this season in Spokane when Oregon raced to a 20-point halftime lead. WSU led this one 24-18 just less than 10 minutes in, although Oregon finished the first half shooting 60.9 percent and led 36-33 at the break.
The Ducks committed nine turnovers in the first half, part of what prevented them from forcing a faster tempo on the Cougars.
“If they kept scoring at that rate, we didn’t know if we’d be able to hang with them,” said Brock Motum, referring to the amount of points scored by each team in the opening minutes. “So we had to slow the game down to the tempo we wanted to play at.”
WSU’s final lead was 57-56 after a Moore jumper with 8 minutes to play. Singler made a tip-in to put the Ducks back ahead, and after Motum split a pair of free throws, Sim and Devoe Joseph hit back-to-back 3s to push the lead to six points.
“We tried a few things,” Bone said. “There were times we were switching. We had bigger guys on them with a hand in the face, but I think those kids can really shoot the ball. … They don’t need a whole lot of daylight.”
Motum led WSU with 17 points. Mike Ladd scored 13 and Moore added 10 for a Cougars team that Bone believes is starting to find its way in the absence of second-leading scorer Faisal Aden.
“(I) think we’re starting to adjust to that and find our own identity without him, and hopefully we are continuing to get better,” Bone said. “I feel like we are. I think we had a pretty good weekend of basketball.”