PULLMAN – All things considered, Washington State couldn’t have asked for much better circumstances down the stretch against Arizona on Thursday night.
Tough opponent. Tight game. Playing at home. And with the Cougars’ best player, Brock Motum, at the free-throw line with 21 seconds remaining, about to attempt three shots with his team trailing by three points.
“Who would have ever thought that he wouldn’t make free throws down the stretch of this game?” coach Ken Bone lamented afterward.
Not Motum, the junior forward who led all scorers with 28 points, and not the 3,616 at Beasley Coliseum who watched Arizona take a 76-72 win after Motum missed the first two of those foul shots and the Wildcats made all four of theirs in the remaining seconds.
“I’m sure 98 other times out of 100,” a sullen Motum said, “I would have made that. But I didn’t.”
Motum, who entered the game as a 75.9 percent free-throw shooter, made just 10 of his 18 attempts on this night, missing four straight before stepping to the line after drawing a clever foul from Kyle Fogg beyond the 3-point arc. The streak of misses was at six before Motum finally netted the last of his final three attempts.
Motum has carried his team many times during this inconsistent season. And he did again on Thursday, making 8 of 14 from the field with his parents, visiting from Brisbane, Australia, watching in the crowd. But too many of those free throws found only iron.
“I hope he’s in the same position the next game and the following game,” Bone said, “because I know he’ll make those.”
The Cougars (13-13, 5-9 Pac-12) fell to .500 with the loss, but were nearly unrecognizable compared to their 85-61 loss to the Wildcats three weeks ago in Tucson.
“I think so,” said Reggie Moore, asked if the Cougars are considerably better now than they were then. “I think the score showed that.
“Last time, we got blown out down there by almost 30.”
Arizona (19-8, 10-4) still bombed away from the perimeter, making 9 of 19 of its 3-pointers – Brendon Lavender made five of those and led UA with 17 points – but the Cougars were far more efficient offensively.
That was apparent from the start, when WSU raced to an 11-3 lead.
A 5-minute stretch without a field goal early in the second half was the Cougars’ only lull, and Arizona scored just five points in that span.
“One of our main points was attack their bigs and get them in foul trouble,” Motum said, “and I thought we did a good job of that early.”
Moore was again patient and under control running the point, scoring a season-high 21 points while handing out four assists (with just one turnover) in 33 minutes.
WSU’s largest lead of the second half was five points at 57-52, to which Arizona responded with a 9-0 run. Motum tied the game at 63-63 with a deep 3-pointer over Angelo Chol – whom he abused in the paint all night – with 4:57 to go, then made a slick pass to D.J. Shelton for a jam that tied the game again with 2:39 to play.
Arizona’s first bit of separation came on a three-point play by Jesse Perry with 38.8 seconds to play – the second of two big, late buckets for him inside – and the Wildcats pushed the lead to two possessions thanks to a pair of free throws by Fogg after Motum’s big misses.
“I feel like that last four games – you count the UCLA game – I think we’ve played good basketball, but we’ve come up short,” Bone said. “We’ve got to turn the page, get on to tomorrow and keep trying to get better.”
“We need to start getting wins,” Motum said. “That’s the bottom line.”