A quick post before I sign off for a few days (more about that on the link). We were in the Kennel tonight as WSU struggled to execute down the stretch – on both ends of the floor. We have some thoughts about that on the jump and some comments from a few Cougars.
• Putting together a defensive game plan for a college basketball game is akin to the same process a football team goes through, just in a much more confined time frame. The game plan WSU put together for GU was damn good and worked to near perfection for about ¾ of the game. The idea was to double the on-ball screens up top, forcing the dribbler high and wide, disrupting the GU pick-and-roll game. That worked to near perfection. To defend the post, where the Zags had an obvious size – and depth – advantage, the Cougars doubled quickly, something they've done well the past three years. That also worked, disrupting the GU inside game. But the Bulldogs adjusted, getting away from on-ball screens and post play, going smaller with Kelly Olynyk instead of Robert Sacre and switching to more of a motion in the late first half and the second. For a while WSU handled it. But as the Zags wore them down, the Cougars started to lag, slow on getting through screens, slow on help and slow on rotations. And you can't defend GU with slow. ... One thing assistant coach Ben Johnson told Marcus Capers and the rest of the Cougars was they couldn't relax on defense when Matt Bouldin or Steven Gray came off a screen. The Zag guards will relax and then explode to an open spot. Too often he was right. Bouldin got a lot of his looks not by coming off a screen but by baiting Capers into standing a little, then making a quick cut to get space and a pass. That's all he needed Wednesday night.
• A lot of the Cougars were pointing to the first half, when Klay Thompson had just 3 of 9 and had scored only six points. WSU still led 39-27 thanks to eight points by both DeAngelo Casto and Xavier Thames and 50 percent shooting by the rest of the Cougs. That showed, they said, they can compete without Klay having a good night. But can they win? The last 10:32 minutes may say otherwise. From that point until the 3:32 mark, when Reggie Moore hit two free throws, no one but Thompson scored for WSU. And the Cougars frittered away a 12-point lead. It's stretches like that where someone other than Thompson has to step up and make a shot.
• Here are some quotes from the Cougars ...
On Bouldin: "We couldn't really give him (any) space. When we used a help man, they took advantage. They started slipping screens."
"With Bouldin, if he knocks one down – he's not really a shooter, Gray's the shooter on the team – but Bouldin, in situations like that, if one shot goes down he feels like all of them can go down. We let him make four in the first half and after that, he just got in rhythm."
What they learned: "We have to get tougher towards the end. In a game like this, even though we lost, we still learned a lot. We've just got to get tougher at the end. We need to learn how to maintain the intensity we had in the first half. If we had played like that for 40 minutes, we would have probably beat them by 20. We didn't. We played 32 minutes. To win the game, you've got to be the better team for 40 minutes. We didn't do that. That's why we lost."
• Reggie Moore
Difference in halves: "Our energy in the second half was kind of low. I think some of us kind of thought the game was won already since we were up about 12 or 14 points."
Disappointed: "That's a team you really want to beat. That's kind of like our rivalry, with them being 16th in the nation, that puts a lot on it, so you really want to beat them."
Defense on Klay: "They just got into him a little more. I've got to do a better job and we've got to do a better job getting him the ball in the right spots and setting screens for him to get him open. So it wasn't really Klay. They played a big part in it, but I also think we had a lot to do with it."
On the crowd: "I've never been through anything like this before. I've never been through a crowd like this before. They were so loud it was deafening. It was just a good experience."
• Coach Ken Bone
On Steven Gray's defense: "He was able to play physical with (Klay) and that helped him."
Second half: "I don't know if it was total fatigue or just the fact Bouldin and some of those guys just got going. ... We didn't change the game plan at all. We kept doing the things that got us the lead in the first half or the first 30 minutes. I think it was more Gonzaga just stepped their game up, played a little higher level of intensity, a little bit more physical down the stretch. And it paid off."
On Bouldin: "He lit us up. Seven 3s. He's a great player."
• I'll be off the blog tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. I'm taking some furlough days and can't put items up. We'll finish our time later this month, but I'll let you know when we get closer.
• That's it for now. We'll be back. Until then ...