PULLMAN – On Thursday night against Stanford, Washington State’s basketball team managed the unthinkable. Twice.
First was keeping one of the country’s most imposing post players in check. Reid Travis, the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12, came in averaging 21.3 points per game, but the big, broad-shouldered junior had a rare dud and was held to single digits for the first time since last season.
And second? Well that’d be losing to the Cardinal, 79-70 at Beasley Coliseum, despite just six points on 1-of-6 shooting from Travis, who scored four of his points from the free throw line but also missed three times and finished well shy of his rebounding average. Not since his freshman season had the preseason All-Pac-12 first teamer managed just one field goal in a game.
Yet the Cardinal still found a way.
Only 2,540 came out to see the Cougars play their first home Pac-12 game of the academic semester and the encore to a promising start – WSU led by as many as nine points – was another sluggish finish in which the hosts missed 12 of 13 shots at one point and endured a six minute stretch in the second half without making a single shot from the field.
“It’s extremely frustrating and it has nothing to do with the coaches, honestly,” senior forward Drick Bernstine said. “It’s on us. We’re the people who are out on the floor and they’re giving us good game plans, but we just can’t close games right now. Honestly, it’s on me and it’s on the other leaders. We’ve got to figure out how we can close out games.”
Other overarching issues for the Cougars were turnovers – they had 22 of them five nights after committing a season-high 23 against Washington – and Stanford junior Dorian Pickens, who picked up the slack for Travis and scored an efficient 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Pickens stuck the dagger in the Cougs with two uncontested 3-pointers in the final 2:31 – one to make the score 74-67 and another to extend it to 77-70.
“(Pickens) just had a monster game,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “… He just dominated our guards. That went back to last year when we had a hard time defending any tough guard (that) kind of came at us.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Cal, the Cougars (8-8, 0-4) are the only Pac-12 team without a conference win. They’ve now lost eight of their last 10.
The cold shooting was one problem for a team that connected on 17-of-31 shots in the first half and only 8-of-27 in the second. The Cougars’ first-half offense at times was a one-man shooting display courtesy of Malachi Flynn. He banged in three 3-pointers in the first four minutes, then missed one before connecting on his next three.
That gave Flynn a quick 18 points, but the sophomore guard saw only one more shot fall after that and finished 7-of-21 with 24 points.
“They just took away Malachi,” Bernstine said. “Malachi was hot and we didn’t execute on offense. … When you turn the ball over 22 times in the game, it’s going to be hard to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing honestly.”
In the second half, the Cougars committed 11 turnovers and made only eight field goals.
Bernstine, often WSU’s primary ball-handler, had seven turnovers. Robert Franks, the team’s top scorer, was responsible for another six. The Cougars have averaged 17.5 turnovers in Pac-12 play – and that’s after committing only eight in the opener at UCLA.
WSU led by eight points at a critical juncture in the second half when guard Viont’e Daniels appeared to hook legs with an official in the corner. Shaken up, Daniels left the floor and got medical attention before returning minutes later. But the junior starter only lasted a few more minutes before exiting for good.
Kent, who says his players have been involved in three similar collisions the last four games, spent almost a minute and a half on the topic in his postgame press conference, pleading for officials to adjust to a faster-paced, higher-tempo game.
“I’m just looking at the tape where again, at a critical point in the game, we get a key player on our team hurt that comes back and tries to play,” Kent said. “And it’s 48-40 and he can’t play anymore because of a collision with an official. That’s not right. The game is different now. It’s faster, the floor is filled, the corners are filled a lot quicker and we’ve got to get that piece figured out as a league, we’ve got to get it figured out as an officiating group.”