COUGARS • UPDATED: 11:30 A.M.
It's easy to tell when the Washington State Cougars are having a down season. The coverage dries up. And that's what's happening right now. Trying to find anything but a wire piece on the Cougars' loss to Cal last night was next to impossible. Read on.
• It's a matter of distance – and money. The Seattle newspapers have to cover the Huskies, no matter what type of season they are having (and, after last night's victory over Stanford, they are having a good one). But if WSU isn't making noise, then few in Seattle, our state's media capital if not the political one, strain to listen. The Times ran the Associated Press game story, though that pales in comparison to the P-I, which didn't run anything that I could find - UPDATE: After further digging, I found this short on its site. Also, Isaac Fontaine is the WSU athlete who will be inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor this year, the conference announced this morning – (maybe everyone was distracted with yesterday's unconfirmed TV report on the possible sale or closing of the paper, which would be really, really sad). The News Tribune and other West Side papers did run freelancer Howie Stalwick's story, giving South Sound readers a chance to see how the Cougars did. Of course, the Cougars are the local Pac-10 team, so we had our story and all these inane blog posts. But that's just the way it is and has been over here on the dry side of the state. And the economic slowdown won't help. If the P-I were to close, the coverage will get even thinner. Let's move on. I don't want to get depressed.
Though I will go into a little more depth about last night's loss, which could depress you. First, I'll link the Bay Area stories, the Chronicle's piece and the Oakland Tribune's story. That gives you the Cal perspective. Now let's analyze what happened from the perspective of someone who watches the Cougars nearly every day. The obvious failings came down the stretch, when WSU had every chance to put the pressure on the Bears and couldn't. The last two minutes, as I wrote last night, on the surface decided this one. But, like any athletic event, there was more to it than that.
WSU coach Tony Bennett has been harping for a while now the Cougars need to have everyone, or just about everyone, play at a high level for 40 minutes, or just about 40 minutes. That's their only chance to win against good teams, and most of the Pac-10 falls into that category. Thursday night, WSU didn't get the offensive contributions it needed from Aron Baynes to win. The senior got his looks. His nine shots tied for the third-most he's had in a game this year. And almost all of those came against single coverage. Yes, it was physical coverage, but Baynes gets that a lot. He just couldn't finish, especially early. But, to his credit, it didn't affect his defense. He came up with two blocks and altered many other shots. He had eight rebounds, and almost all came in traffic. And he and the other bigs – Caleb Forrest, DeAngelo Casto and Daven Harmeling – played impressive off-ball defense, helping the guards limit the contributions of Jerome Randle and Theo Robertson, both of whom need screens to get their shot off consistently. "We, as the guards, had better help from the big guys on those curls," Nik Koprivica said. "Definitely their help helps me, helps Klay and Taylor to guard their good guards. We're getting better." But right now WSU also needs scoring help and none of the aforementioned bigs chipped in as much as they are capable.
Then there was the X-factor, or the unlucky bounces, if you want to call it that. I counted three times during the game when the Cougars knocked the ball free on defense, scrambled after it, were unable to corral it and it rolled out to an open Bear. Three times they hit shots, two 3-pointers and an inside score. "In my head I must have said 'of course' about three times," Rochestie said. "Just thinking to myself, 'oh man.' Caleb's unbelievable with hustle, and Caleb dives for a ball and most of the time he gets it. One time he doesn’t get it and we're trying to help and they swing it around and a guy hits a 3. It's always when somebody falls down or trips or some little thing that usually doesn't happen, happens. They get open for a 3 and they hit it. That's what it takes to win a Pac-10 game. You've got to have some luck on your side just as much as skill." And lately, the Cougars have had precious little luck.
• In other Pac-10 games last night, as I said, the Huskies got a putback from Jon Brockman in the final seconds to edge Stanford, which now travels across the state – if it can – to face WSU on Saturday night. (Speaking of the Huskies' basketball program, did you see the score of the women's loss to 11th-ranked Stanford last night? Wow. The Cougar women also lost to No. 8 Cal, but not by a biblical margin.) ... The Arizona schools topped their Oregon counterparts, with ASU's near-perfect shooting helping to blow out OSU and a resurgent Chase Budinger leading UA past Oregon.
• There was some big football news yesterday as well. No, I'm not talking about the so-call national title game, won by the Florida Gators – and satirized here by Buster Sports' Nick Daschel. I'm talking about Western Washington University dropping the sport. The decision, which Steve Kelley writes about this morning, will save the university about a half million dollars over the next two years, according to the Times story. And will cost more kids a chance for an experience that not only enriches their college years, but the rest of their life as well. Which is really, really sad. There might be a silver lining for Cougar fans, though. Football coach Paul Wulff wants to improve the depth of his team through the development of a first-class walk-on program. Now there will be a couple dozen Washington players who would have headed to Bellingham looking for an affordable place to play. Some of Western's athletes may not have been Division 1 ready out of high school, but matured into Pac-10 caliber at some time in their college careers. Maybe they'll be doing their maturing in Pullman now.
• That's it for now. We'll be back this afternoon after practice. Till then …