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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU struggles down the stretch


COUGARS

Well, if it's any consolation for Coug fans, this one came down to the wire. Not many of the Cougars six losses have. Usually, the problem stretch occurs a lot earlier than it did Thursday night. But once again WSU was unable to make the plays it needed to win.

Read on for my story which will appear in tomorrow's S-R.
••••••••••

• Here's the unedited version of the game story …

•••

PULLMAN – When it came down to it, Washington State just couldn't get it done.

Couldn't take care of the ball down the stretch. Couldn't stop Patrick Christopher. Couldn't win.

As a result the Cougars lost their fourth consecutive home game and fell to 0-2 in the Pac-10 by allowing the Cal Bears to pull out a 57-50 win in the final 2 minutes before 7,221 at Beasley Coliseum.

"I thought the guys battled hard and fought longer," said WSU coach Tony Bennett. "We didn't unravel early. ... (we) just have to keep fighting and last longer, not break down, down the stretch."

"A loss is a loss," senior Taylor Rochestie said after doing his best to forestall such a result, hitting 8 of 14 shots en route to a season-high 19 points. "It's all about winning."

Which is something the Cougars haven't down since Dec. 21 at Idaho, and they haven't done on Friel Court in more than a month.

But at least in this one they had a shot late – though it didn’t turn out to be a good one.

After falling behind by as many as nine in the second half, they had crawled back to within 51-47 with 2:23 left. They had the ball after a Jerome Randle turnover. There was a media time out. The crowd was roaring.

It was all there for the taking.

But Cal wouldn't let the Cougars have it. The Bears (14-2, 3-0 and in first in the Pac-10) clamped down defensively, using 6-foot-8 Harper Kamp along with four guards, forcing contested pass after contested pass and finally forcing Klay Thompson to create at the end of an expiring shot clock.

"Man, he got it going really good in the first half, so I was just trying to contain him a little," Christopher said. "It looked like he was trying to find a way to get his shot off."

Christopher made it a tough one, forcing Thompson to the baseline, where the freshman missed and Kamp cleared.

"That's what you have to do down the stretch in tough defensive games," Bennett said. "You have to be able to make some tough shots. You don't always have to create it. But if someone kicks it to you and you're in rhythm, you've got to knock it down."

Which Christopher accomplished on the other end, doing what he did all night: scoring when Cal needed a bucket.

None compared to his last basket, however. The 6-5 junior broke back door, leaped and caught Randle's pass about 2 feet above the rim before ramming it home.

"We came down and ran the play and it was there," Christopher said. "That was just me and Jerome having good eye contact."

"He's pretty athletic and hard to guard," said an obviously dejected Nik Koprivica, who guarded Christopher much of the second half. "I fell asleep (the) last possession. It was an amazing, amazing dunk, but I still should have been (in) much better position to defend that."

Two WSU turnovers – the Cougars had just six – and a missed shot followed, allowing Cal to score two fastbreak baskets in the final 77 seconds.

Christopher, who was this week's Pac-10 player of the week, finished with 22 points, hitting 9 of 14 mostly contested shots. And the Bears, who have won eight consecutive games, needed it, because, other than Christopher's 4 of 6, the rest of the nation's best 3-point shooting team (50.5 percent) was 1 of 8 from long range.

That included a bagel in five attempts for the 5-10 Randle, the nation's individual leader, guarded most of the night by Rochestie.

"He's good at guarding those little quick guys that every big guard hates to guard," said Thompson of Rochestie's effort against Randle, who came in averaging 19.5 points a game, but finished with eight.

Still, Christopher got outside help from Theo Robertson (4 of 6 for 11 points) and inside assistance from Jamal Boykin (12 points and 14 rebounds).

Even with Rochestie winning his battle with Randle and Thompson adding 14 points – all but two in the first half – the Cougars didn't have enough firepower – again.

The Cougars' Aron Baynes struggled against Kamp's physical defense and was 2 of 9 from the floor. Caleb Forrest passed up some open looks early and finished with just four points. Koprivica, playing in front of his parents who traveled from Serbia, took just five shots and had five points.

Plus the Cougars four bench players, who combined for 44 minutes, didn't score.

"Zeros all the way down," Bennett said, looking at the stats. "You have to have some production. That's tough."

With the loss, WSU (8-6 overall) head into Saturday's finale of a three-game, Pac-10-opening homestand needed to salvage a win against Stanford, which will be coming off a 84-83 loss to Washington.

"At this level, nothing but two complete halves or 40 minutes is enough to get it done," Bennett said. "That's the goal in front of us. Lay it out and scramble to get one."

•••

• That's it in the way of my story. Someone asked on my postgame post what I thought about the way the game was officiated. Did I believe it was a well-officiated game? No. There were at least a dozen travels missed, a lack of enforcement of the displacement rule in the post and other hard-to-understand rulings. But was the crew consistent? Yes. The misses affected both teams. As for too many men on the court, which was mentioned, that's something that's not going to be called unless it somehow affects a play. College referees are instructed to count both teams and hold up until there are 10 players, and 10 players only, on the court.

That's it for me. See you tomorrow …




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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