LOS ANGELES – He didn’t have his team well enough prepared on Wednesday afternoon, Washington State coach Ken Bone said, so the Cougars will again leave the Pac-12 tournament without a victory.
The question now is whether WSU’s 69-64 loss to Oregon State at Staples Center will also end the Cougars’ season.
“We’d love to go on and play,” Bone said.
Their fate is now likely in the hands of the College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament that selects its participants after the 68-team NCAA tournament and 32-team National Invitational Tournament make their selections on Sunday.
WSU (15-16) has already submitted paperwork to indicate interest in the CBI, and athletic director Bill Moos said recently that the Cougars would like to host if they are selected.
Now, they must wait to find out if the CBI wants them. If not, WSU will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2006.
“We’re competitors,” freshman guard DaVonte Lacy said. “So if the coaches decide to put us in the tournament, then we’re going to compete and play.”
It took about 10 minutes for the Cougars to decide to so in Wednesday’s game. Oregon State raced to a 24-8 lead behind four 3-pointers from guard Ahmad Starks, and the Beavers looked as if they might run away it.
“Oregon State came out and threw the first punch and landed it pretty hard,” Bone said. “I don’t think I had our guys ready to go from the beginning.”
WSU awoke soon enough. Marcus Capers and D.J. Shelton, two key cogs in WSU’s 83-73 win over OSU on Feb. 9, led a charge that put the Cougars ahead 32-28 after a 24-4 run, and WSU led 39-38 at halftime.
But that initial Beavers run took its toll.
“If we had come out and thrown the first punch, it may have been a different story,” said junior forward Brock Motum, who led WSU with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Motum, who finished the regular season second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 18.1 points per game said that “as of right now,” his plan is to return to WSU for his senior season, motivated by the desire to take the team to the NCAAs.
“If we don’t start off that bad or that down, I feel like we would have had a different conversation,” said the senior Capers, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Cougars’ final lead was at 60-59 with 3:38 remaining. But WSU made just one field goal in the game’s final 10:15, which may have been a product of fatigue, Bone said. The Cougars used a seven-man rotation, shooting 67.8 percent in the first half before making just 7 of 25 from the field in the second.
Moore handed out 10 assists, but made just 3 of 16 from the field.
OSU (18-13) scored nine of its final 11 points at the free-throw line, big men Devon Collier and Joe Burton bulling their way inside. Collier led the Beavers with 19 points on a day when conference leading scorer Jared Cunningham managed just four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
It didn’t matter. WSU had its chances to stay in the game late, but Marcus Capers missed a crucial pair of free throws with 1:21 remaining and WSU trailing 64-61. Burton scored on the other end to put OSU up by five, then Moore missed a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left and the Beavers shot free throws the rest of the way.
The Cougars have not won a Pac-12 tournament game since Bone has been coach. But if it’s up to them, they seem willing to try their hand in the CBI.
“I think it’s more up to the seniors to decide. It’s their last season,” Motum said. “Anything we can do for them because it’s their last year, I’d buy in 100 percent if they wanted to play.”
Asked if he thinks this year’s seniors – Capers, Abe Lodwick and Charlie Enquist – would want to continue playing, Bone said: “Definitely.”