PULLMAN – Many of Washington State’s opponents have fallen into the same trap this season. They play their best basketball in the first half, enter the break feeling good about the cushion they’ve established, then wilt in the second half when the Cougars decide to come to life.
In that case, WSU had Saturday’s opponent in a good spot. The Cougars were lethargic for the first 20 minutes and trailed UC Davis by 17 points when the buzzer sounded on the first half.
And indeed, there was more spark to the Cougars in the second – this time it just didn’t coincide with a letdown from the other team. On three occasions this season, WSU has been able to pull out a win after trailing at halftime, but the Aggies made sure there wouldn’t be a fourth at Beasley Coliseum, winning 81-67 to hand the Cougars their first loss of the season.
“We’d gotten into too big a hole against too good a team,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “You’re not going to be able to pull yourself out of all those 20-point plus first half (deficits) and things like that, so use it for a learning lesson and get moving again.”
In front of their largest crowd of the season – a reported 3,183 – the Cougars (6-1), who received votes in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll, were off-target, out of rhythm and disjointed for much of the nonconference game.
In the first half, they doomed themselves on offense, shooting just 10-of-28 from the field while turning the ball over 10 times. That allowed the Aggies (5-2) to pull ahead 42-25 at halftime.
“I think it was just us not coming prepared to play today,” Robert Franks said. “That’s all I can really say. We weren’t prepared to play.”
The Cougars lost despite a career day from their junior forward, who’d already scored 25 points twice this season and entered the game as the seventh-leading scorer in the Pac-12 (18.5 ppg). Franks had a personal-best 32 points – 20 of which came in the second half, helping the Cougars climb back into a game that saw them trail by as many as 23.
Franks repeatedly pulled up from three-point range over smaller defenders to connect on 5-of-9 shots and often worked his way inside to test Davis’ all-conference senior forward, Chima Moneke. Franks won many of the battles when the Cougars were on offense, but Moneke usually got the best of WSU when the Aggies went back down the floor.
“He’s a great player, plays with a lot of energy but I think we had a lot of defensive breakdowns,” Cougars point guard Malachi Flynn said. “Not taking anything away from him, but we had a lot of defensive breakdowns which gave him a lot of points.”
Moneke was responsible for 19 points and 11 rebounds, but the Aggies’ offense wasn’t centered around one or two scorers. TJ Shorts II chipped in 20 points, Siler Schneider had 12 and four other UC Davis players had at least six.
The Cougars were a two-man show. Franks accounted for nearly half of WSU’s 67 and Flynn, thanks to a 17-point surge in the second half, poured in 19 more. All but 16 of the hosts’ points came from those two. The other eight Cougars combined to shoot 6-of-25 from the field and were 2-of-24 from distance.
“We were atrocious offensively to start the game, we just got nothing done,” Kent said. “We were in no rhythm, no flow and a lot of that had to do with, you weren’t getting enough stops to get out and run and even when we did, we missed a couple of wide-open shots. And from there, it just kind of knocked us out of rhythm a little bit.”
Another culprit was the turnovers. Three Cougars were responsible for 14 of them and Flynn stunningly recorded five. The sophomore had one of the country’s best assist-to-turnovers in the country coming in, with 28 assists to just four turnovers.
“Myself, I wasn’t ready to play in the first half,” Flynn said. “Just being careless with the ball, that’s something – I’m going to try to get away from that. So we’ve just got to come in and prepared every game and stay focused.”
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