I make a statement in my story tonight about how Taylor Rochestie's game-winning bucket might just have saved this season for the Cougars. Too much hyperbole? Please let me know. Because it sure seemed like this win was key to me. Lose this one and WSU heads off to Oregon next week 0-3, with little chance of redeeming the Pac-10 season. But with a win the Cougars will face Oregon State with confidence and the possibility of coming back home to face UCLA with a winning conference record. Read on for the unedited version of my game story.
• Here's the gamer. Feel free to comment, though I would appreciate it if you wouldn't harp too much on DeAngelo Casto's performance. I expect to read a lot of "I told you so" statements. Casto took care of the ball tonight, that's the biggest reason Tony Bennett felt he could play him multiple minutes, which goes back to my statement. He does that, he'll play. Well, back to the story.
PULLMAN – After four consecutive home losses, Washington State coach Tony Bennett decided he had to put the ball in his best player's hands more often.
That would be Taylor Rochestie, the Cougars' point guard, who has scored 999 collegiate points, though none possibly more important than his last two Saturday night.
They might just have saved his senior season.
Rochestie dribbled off Aron Bayne's high screen – a play put in just this week at practice – and converted a 5-foot floating bank shot with 17.2 seconds left.
The points, Rochestie's 20 and 21st of the game, helped the Cougars to a 55-54 win over Stanford before a raucous crowd of 7,332 at Beasley Coliseum.
It was a shot that seemed eerily similar to one Rochestie had at the end of overtime against the Cardinal last year here, a ball that went in-and-out to seal Stanford's 67-65 victory.
"No, I wasn't thinking about it, but thanks for mentioning it," Rochestie said, laughing. "They beat us three times last year ... and I had a shot to take (one of those) into (another) overtime. In those close games you have to have a passion in your heart to go out and beat them."
The shot put WSU up by the final score, but it was up to 6-foot-8 DeAngelo Casto to seal it.
On the Cardinal possession, Casto, the freshman from Ferris High, came off his man with 8 seconds left and denied Stanford's leading scorer, 6-3 guard Anthony Goods, at the rim. The shot block, and Casto's subsequent rebound, forced Stanford to foul.
"We finally made some plays down the stretch, both offensively and defensively," said Bennett. "Just a few plays that were made that have been lacking recently."
The Cardinal still had a chance, though, because, with 5 seconds left, Casto missed both free throws. But when Goods grabbed the rebound and headed up court, Casto hawked him, forcing him to turn a couple times before casting off a 30-footer at the buzzer over 6-6 Klay Thompson that missed badly.
"After I missed the second one," Casto said of his free throws, "I just didn't want him to drive up the sideline ... so I made sure to force him back middle."
The win, WSU's first when they trailed at half this season, seemed impossible after the first half.
The Cougars (9-6 overall, 1-2 in conference) shot a miserable 20 percent (4 of 20) before intermission, going almost 13 minutes between buckets, with only Rochestie's three-point play with 4 seconds left breaking the streak.
The Cougars trailed 30-22 and, with their offensive woes this season, seemed in danger of losing all three games of their Pac-10-opening homestand. But they were staying close an unusual way. They were 12 of 15 from the free-throw line in the first 20 minutes, after not having shot that many in a game since the Gonzaga defeat, five games ago. They finished 19 of 26, both season highs, while Stanford was 16 of 24.
"Anytime you can get an offensive rebound, points at the line, fastbreak points," Bennett said, "with our struggles to score, that's significant. Just a few of those made a huge difference."
So did a second-half lineup change.
Trying to lift his team's energy, Bennett started Casto. The freshman, who had three points and a block in the first half, ended up playing 21 minutes, many of them on the court with the 6-10 Baynes.
"My first thought was to not mess up," Casto said of his extended playing time. "But then I thought, 'obviously I'm in the game because I brought energy, I brought a spark off the bench, he's putting me in for a reason.' "
Whatever the reason, after a trade of quick baskets, it worked.
The Cougars went on a 10-0 run, capped by their most impressive play of the season.
Rochestie poked the ball free from senior forward Lawrence Hill, who tied Goods for team-high scoring honors with 15, and Caleb Forrest dove on the floor to grab it. Forrest rolled over and tossed the ball to Thompson, who took off up court on a 3-on-1 break.
As Mitch Johnson retreated, Thompson kept attacking, finally rising up and throwing down a thundering dunk, earning a blocking foul on Johnson in the process.
"Never had a better feeling in a game," Thompson admitted.
"There was a lot of adrenaline after that dunk, and I think it was a big momentum shifter," added Thompson, who finished with 13 points but hit just 4 of 12 shots.
Bennett agreed. "That certainly electrified the crowd," he said.
With the noise finally abating, Thompson hit the free throw and WSU led for the first time since it was 3-2.
From there, momentum-shift or not, the teams traded buckets, with Stanford building the lead to as much as three (45-42) on a Hill foul shot with 8:22 left. But Abe Lodwick, who had scored 11 points all season, hit a 3-pointer from the baseline to tie it with 7:19 left.
The Cardinal (11-3, 1-3) wouldn't go away, though, tying it at 53 with 2:49 remaining on Hill's jumper, and going ahead on their next possession on his free throw. But he missed the second, and they squandered an offensive possession that saw the Cardinal, who won the rebound battle 34-31, get two offensive boards and use 1:27 seconds before Casto finally ran down Josh Owens' miss.
Then came Rochestie's drive.
And a win the Cougars sorely needed.
"It gives us a lot of confidence," Thompson said. "Beating a team like Stanford makes us feel like we're capable of playing with anybody."
• That's if for tonight. I'm headed back to Spokane, if the road's OK, so I'll post some day after thoughts tomorrow morning. Till then …