Cougars, up 11 at halftime, drop another winnable game.
PULLMAN – Familiarity reigned Saturday at Beasley Coliseum, site of everything you’d expect between Washington State and Oregon’s basketball teams.
That it ended in wild fashion? Old hat for these squads. That it ended in frustration for WSU? Same as it ever was.
The tough-luck Cougars injected more drama into their 79-77 overtime loss to the No. 23 Ducks than many are accustomed to, but in the end, their near-heroics only compounded the agony.
Royce Woolridge’s career-best 36 points will be a footnote. DaVonte Lacy’s game-tying, overtime-forcing 3-pointer will be forgotten. Same with Woolridge’s 3 to tie the game with 6.9 seconds left in overtime.
So the enduring image will be Dexter Kernich-Drew’s mystifying foul of Oregon’s E.J. Singler in a tie game with 3.8 seconds left, Singler’s two subsequent free throws, Woolridge’s off-the-mark heave from midcourt at the buzzer and another loss in a game the Cougars (11-15, 2-11 Pac-12) could have won.
They’ve lost six in a row now.
“It’s the same story for us,” coach Ken Bone said. “We’re in the game, guys work hard, we lose.”
Against Oregon (21-5, 10-3), especially. WSU has lost eight consecutive overtime decisions to the Ducks, their last win in such a game coming in 1967. Included among those defeats are two in Bone’s tenure here, one involving a bizarre technical foul, the other ending on a late tip-in by Singler.
But past transgressions pale in comparison to the pain of the present, and that’s where the Cougars are stuck.
They led the Ducks 38-27 at halftime, Woolridge eclipsing his career high in the first half by scoring 22 points, an especially important number with starting guard Mike Ladd still sidelined by a knee injury.
Oregon forward Tony Woods was ejected with 9:55 left in the first half after elbowing Brock Motum in the head. Woolridge couldn’t miss, and at one point the Ducks went 13 minutes with just one field goal.
Then the second half started, and so did Singler, the Cougar-killer dropping jumpers again and again. He finished with 25 points, nine of them during a 17-5 run to open the second half that put the Ducks ahead 44-43.
This time, unlike WSU’s 68-61 loss in Eugene earlier this season, there was a strong Cougar response. Kernich-Drew stuck a trio of 3s to help the cause. Woolridge kept penetrating, kept getting to the free-throw line, kept scoring.
But Oregon’s 53.6 percent shooting effort in the second half was too consistent to be contained. The Ducks didn’t trail during the final 5:54 of regulation, and Brandon Loyd went to the free-throw line with 17.7 seconds left and Oregon leading 71-68.
He missed both, WSU rebounded and Bone called timeout, he said, in order to “get organized, make sure we got the shot we wanted by the person we wanted.”
That was Lacy, who stepped behind a screen from Motum and buried a 3-pointer in the corner to tie the game with 8.5 seconds left.
After a timeout, Oregon guard Damyean Dotson missed a jumper, and Singler’s putback attempt bounced once off the rim and fell to the court. Overtime ensued.
“I’m extremely proud of my team because we fight,” said Woolridge, who made 10 of 15 from the field and 10 of 11 at the foul line. “We might not be winning every game, but you can bet we’re going to go out there and fight.”
He’s right. Carlos Emory’s breakaway dunk gave Oregon a 75-72 lead midway through overtime, and the Cougars allowed an offensive rebound off a missed Emory free throw with 1:01 to play and Oregon leading by three.
Yet there was Woolridge, isolated against 5-foot-8 Johnathan Loyd, over whom he rose and fired a long 3-pointer that rattled down, the score tied at 77-77 with 6.9 seconds left.
Singler scrambled down the court. Kernich-Drew apparently lost track of the score, because he reached out and grabbed Singler with 3.8 seconds on the clock, sending Oregon’s best free-throw shooter to the line.
“We all make mistakes,” Bone said, adding that Kernich-Drew is “bummed out.”
“You can’t point fingers,” Woolridge offered.
Singler delivered, as he always has against WSU, and Woolridge could only toss a prayer at the buzzer.
“The losses column is adding up a fair bit now, and we could easily just turn our backs on each other and the coaches and quit on the season,” said Motum, who scored 12 points. “But I don’t think we’ve done that in any game this year.”
For now, that must serve as their victory.
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