Cougars’ defense struggles in loss to Arizona State
TEMPE, Ariz. – This scene is becoming too familiar for the Washington State Cougars.
Once again, the opponent had few answers for junior forward Brock Motum, who scored 34 points on Saturday, a career high.
And once again, the Cougars had few answers for the opponent – on defense, especially.
So it’s another loss, this one 71-67 to Arizona State, another Pac-12 doormat that defended its home court against a WSU team unable to assert itself on the defensive end.
This clunker at Wells Fargo Arena was reminiscent of WSU’s close loss at Utah in the first week of January. Motum scored 27 points in that game, but the Cougars let the Utes push them around and fell 62-60 in overtime.
“Same thing,” Motum said after making 13 of 19 field-goal attempts. “If I have zero points and we win, I’ll be way happier than … this.”
This, of course, is losing, and that’s all WSU has done on the road in conference play. The Cougars played five games away from home during the first half of the Pac-12 schedule. They lost all of them.
After Arizona torched the Cougars (11-10, 3-6) with 15 3-pointers on Thursday, Arizona State came out and made 6 of 12 from long range in the first half, leading 37-36 at halftime.
“I’m not sure exactly what they average per game,” coach Ken Bone said. “But that’s too many.”
ASU (7-14, 3-6) averages 57 points per game against Pac-12 teams. But on this day, it shot 54.5 percent from the field.
WSU defended shooters so poorly in its zone that Bone chose to switch to man-to-man. That change at least helped the Cougars pull within one at the half, but a second-half scoring drought, coupled with a continued inability to create stops, doomed WSU once more.
Carrick Felix led ASU with 20 points (3 for 7 on 3-pointers), and Chris Colvin added 16 (3 of 6 on 3s).
“I feel like we can guard (in) man,” senior guard Marcus Capers said. “The coaches don’t feel like we can guard people man, but I do. Any time we’re in man, everybody gets a little more aggressive, but most of the time we’re in zone, everybody tends to bag back.”
But Motum needed help, and he didn’t get any. The rest of the team shot just 10 for 30 from the field. Perhaps that was a byproduct of the absence of Faisal Aden, the team’s second-leading scorer, who sprained the MCL in his left knee during Thursday’s loss to Arizona.
Bone said the presence of ASU’s Jordan Bachynski (7-foot-2) and Ruslan Pateev (7-0) makes it considerably harder to penetrate the Sun Devils’ matchup zone.
Still, WSU didn’t shoot poorly in the second half, making 10 of 21. But it turned the ball over 12 times after halftime, and made just two field goals over a stretch of more than 10 minutes that allowed ASU to build a margin the Cougars couldn’t cut closer than three.
Afterward, ASU coach Herb Sendek reveled in the fact that for the first time this season, his Sun Devils turned the ball over fewer times (16) than their opponent (WSU had 18).
Motum did what he could to help close the gap down the stretch. ASU led 59-48 with 5:58 left, but a Motum 3-pointer and a dunk by Capers cut that lead to six points.
ASU kept scoring, though, and some key WSU turnovers – including a strip of Motum by Kyle Cain with 35 seconds left and ASU leading 66-62 – prevented the Cougars from coming all the way back.
“We tried the same plan as the first half, just move the ball and attack their big guys off the bounce,” Motum said. “I thought we did a good job of that, but they hit a lot of shots. They hit some critical shots and we didn’t execute as well as we could have down the stretch.”