PULLMAN – Brock Motum sat with his head down, his 6-foot-10 frame enveloping a small set of stairs inside Beasley Coliseum’s drab concourse, before taking questions by himself in the media room.
Frustration coated Motum’s words as he answered for Washington State’s 68-63 loss to rival Washington on Saturday before 7,711 disappointed patrons.
This was not the beginning to Pac-12 basketball play the senior forward had envisioned. Not for WSU, and not for himself.
Washington forward Desmond Simmons is to be credited for the latter, as he fronted Motum aggressively and harassed him into just 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
“I just missed a couple of open shots early that I think would have changed the way he guarded me at least,” Motum said.
He wasn’t alone there. The Cougars shot 27.6 percent from the field in the first half, falling into a 21-4 hole – they didn’t score until the 14:50 mark – before closing UW’s halftime lead to 34-27. And they also went without a field goal during the game’s final 4:07, during which time the Huskies scored a decisive 12 points and received four clutch free throws from redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews.
“When we did get some shots, whether they were shots right next to the basket or open looks on the perimeter, we just weren’t able to put those down early in the game,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Nothing seemed to work offensively for WSU (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12). The Cougars made just five of their 20 attempts from 3-point range – three of those coming from Will DiIorio, who had made and attempted just one such shot this season – and had trouble even getting the ball in Motum’s hands.
“My thing was to not let him catch the ball and when he did catch the ball, just pretty much play him straight up and guard him as best I could,” said Simmons, who played 30 minutes.
Still, he could only keep Motum down for so long. It was Motum’s short jumper that officially erased UW’s 17-point lead, tying the score at 48-48 with 7:58 to go. And he made a 3-pointer on WSU’s next possession to give the Cougars their first lead at 51-50.
Beasley came alive. The Huskies looked tired. But even after the Cougars scrapped their way to a four-point lead – their largest of the game after DaVonte Lacy made a layup with 5:44 remaining – WSU’s lapses allowed the Huskies new life.
UW guard Andrew Andrews missed a 3-pointer late in the shot clock on his team’s next possession, but 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye snared the rebound, put the ball through the hoop and was fouled.
He missed the free throw, which only allowed Simmons to grab another offensive rebound, then receive a pass from Abdul Gaddy a few seconds later for a game-tying dunk.
It was game on from there.
DiIorio’s final, unexpected 3-pointer came with 4:07 remaining to put WSU ahead 59-56.
It was also the Cougars’ final field goal.
WSU’s best chance to tie it came with 10 seconds remaining, when Lacy launched a deep 3-pointer with the Cougars trailing by three points. He missed and the rebound caromed to Gaddy, who was fouled with 8.8 seconds remaining.
Gaddy missed the front end of a one-and-one, though players and officials were apparently under the impression that it was a two-shot foul because nobody pursued the rebound. WSU was awarded possession, still trailing by three.
Mike Ladd, who led WSU with 16 points, raced up the court and was fouled to prevent a 3-point attempt. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, Andrews rebounded and was fouled, then made both free throws to end it.
“They scrapped and battled and did everything they could,” Bone said of his team. “And then down the stretch maybe we just put out too much energy and were not able to execute some things in the last few minutes.”
Just like the first few minutes.
“Four points with like nine minutes left in the first half, I think. Something like that,” Motum marveled. “That’s just tough for any team to come back, I don’t care who you are.”