PULLMAN – Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill laughed and toyed with the Washington State crowd, smiling widely after each of his first five 3-pointers in the first half of Saturday’s game.
His sixth, a banked-in prayer from well beyond midcourt as the first half expired, seemed almost typical by then. So did every WSU turnover. There were eight of those before halftime, matching the number of field goals the Cougars made in the same span.
So they spent the rest of the game trying to make up their 14-point halftime deficit. They weren’t good enough at it, losing 79-65 to the No. 8 Wildcats after trailing by double-figures for the game’s final 26 minutes.
It’s the Cougars’ seventh conference basketball loss in nine tries, and their fourth in five Pac-12 games at Beasley Coliseum.
“I think we did some good things,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “But all in all, the better team won.”
An announced crowd of 6,002 showed up on “white out” night. But they might as well have been waving white flags, considering the way Arizona asserted itself so early.
Little went WSU’s way from the opening tip. Senior point guard Mike Ladd committed two early fouls and was sent to the bench, then intentionally fouled an Arizona player to prevent a breakaway shortly after returning to the game.
He played just 3 minutes in the first half and only 18 total.
“That makes it hard,” Bone said, shaking his head. “That really hurt us in the first half.”
“It definitely hurt us,” said sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, who scored 14 points and played 34 minutes.
Without Ladd, the Cougs lacked rhythm offensively. They were careless with the ball, and managed only 12 field-goal attempts in the game’s first 12 minutes.
Arizona led 18-9, then 26-12, and the lead was 40-26 at halftime after Hill’s impossible bank shot.
And while Hill’s 18 points buoyed the Wildcats in the first half, he didn’t score again and it didn’t matter. Point guard Mark Lyons led all scorers with 20 points, leading an effort that put four of Arizona’s starters in double figures.
Or, as Bone said when asked what kind of challenges are presented by Arizona’s size, speed and shooting ability: “How much time do you have right now?”
Senior Wildcats forward Kevin Parrom didn’t even get to stick around for most of it. He was ejected with 10:42 left in the first half after planting an elbow on DaVonte Lacy’s face.
The second half was more about preservation for the Wildcats, but they did that just fine. WSU shot better after halftime (44.4 percent from the field) and committed only five turnovers, but still couldn’t trim the deficit past 10 points.
The Cougars’ best chance to make things interesting was after a Brock Motum steal with 3:26 remaining and Arizona leading 66-56. Motum tossed the ball ahead to D.J. Shelton, who fumbled with it and took too many steps before he could get rid of it. He was called for traveling, Arizona got the ball back, and Lyons made a 3-pointer and then a layup after another Shelton turnover to put the Wildcats ahead by 15.
“They were a real good team, but I think we came out and played hard,” said Shelton, who scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “We fought. It wasn’t like a cakewalk for them.”
But it was easy enough, easier than each of WSU’s previous six Pac-12 losses, and just the second game this season in which the Cougars didn’t lead at some point in the second half.
Bone said he doesn’t think wholesale changes are needed for his team to bounce back during the second half of the Pac-12 schedule.
“We’re going to keep trying to get better at what we’ve been doing,” he said. “I would feel different if we’ve been getting blown out.
“We need some wins. But I like the fact that our guys continue to show up every game and bust their tails and work hard.”