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Monday, September 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cougars wilt in desert


COUGARS

There is no louder facility in the Pac-10 than McKale Center. And it was as loud as its been in a while midway through the second half today. We offer you the raw version of our game story and some web-only notes. Read on.
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• Here's the story ...

TUCSON, Ariz. – With 13 minutes and 43 seconds left to play Saturday in their regionally televised matchup with Arizona, the Washington State Cougars were rolling across the desert like a Lexus on Interstate 10.

Then the radiator blew.

By the time WSU got moving again, the Cougars were down 15 and Arizona was en route to a third-consecutive win, this one 66-56 before 13,476 in the McKale Center and a regional television audience.

"They turned up the heat, extended their pressure and we got rattled," said a disappointed Tony Bennett, alluding to a game-deciding, 16-0 Arizona run.

"Then our defense let down," he added. "Once that's starts happening, we're not very good. We have to be able to be held in there with our defense and it didn't happen."

Leading 39-32 after Taylor Rochestie's press-breaking layup, the Cougars went the next 6:06 without scoring – snapped by a Rochestie floater – and then another 4:28 – a Rochestie 3-pointer from the left corner snapped that run. In the stretch they had six turnovers and missed 10 shots, many wide open.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats, who scored 69 points in the second half against Washington on Thursday, were finally clicking offensively after shooting 31 percent in a first half WSU led 28-23.

Or let's amend that to say Chase Budinger got clicking.

With Daven Harmeling on the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 15:28 left, Budinger scored 10 points and assisted on six others as Arizona outscored the Cougars, 24-2 over a 10-minute span. The 6-foot-7 junior finished with 19 points after having two at intermission.

"He was getting great looks and we knew it was only a matter of time until they fell," said UA interim coach Russ Pennell.

"I knew I had to stop settling for jump shots," said Budinger, who had seven assists and 11 rebounds. "I had to get to the rim and get to the free throw line and that's what I did."

Yes, but ironically it was his first 3-pointer that got the McKale crowd on its feet. It came on the heels of Nic Wise's first 3 – at the 13:25 mark, cutting WSU's lead to 39-35 – which was followed by Nic Koprivica's turnover at midcourt.

Budinger's jumper from the top of the key made McKale erupt and the Cougars wilt.

Rochestie, who scored all 12 of WSU's points from the 15:21 mark until there was just more than a minute left, missed a 3-pointer and the din intensified. Jordan Hill, who finished with 16 points and a like number of rebounds, tossed in a 10-footer to give UA the lead and somehow it got louder.

"When the crowd gets behind them and they get rolling, they have all the confidence in the world," said Rochestie, who finished with five assists and a game-high 22 points. "They're just shooting shots with confidence and knocking them down."

And when the Cougars (12-9 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-10) turned it over four times – stepping out of bounds twice – in the next 3 minutes and Arizona scored each time, the Wildcats (14-8, 4-5) had a dozen unanswered points, a 48-39 lead and their third consecutive win over WSU.

"It's like having a bad dream, being in a nightmare where everything goes wrong," said Harmeling, who hit three 3-pointers and finished with nine points, the most he's had in Pac-10 play. "I felt like that's what happened in the second half."

It was so bad the Cougars couldn't get the ball in the hands of Aron Baynes, who had just seven shots but still finished with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.

"We couldn't even get it past half-court to get it to him," Bennett said.

"Sure, it gets frustrating being down there and not being able to touch the ball," Baynes said, "but we have to get it over the half-court line first before I can have a look at it."

And that was something the Cougars couldn't do.

"It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy when you start turning the ball over," Rochestie said. "You start playing on your heels, you're not worried about where your feet are or the open guys, you're just worried about catching the ball, how many guys are on you, trying to break a trap.

"You've just to stay sound. And you've just got to keep looking to attack."

They didn't, on either end.

"The psychological part is with our defense," Rochestie said. "In that run, while we weren't scoring, we weren't getting stops. You just can't let them keep scoring.

"We were letting them beat us baseline, we weren't helping each other out. We let it affect us defensively. We can't do that."

NOTES: The Cougars remarkable run of free throw shooting also came to an end as they hit just 3 of 7. Caleb Forrest was just 1 of 3. ... Baynes and Hill banged around all day, with Hill struggling to score inside – of his 16 points, six came on jumpers and four more came on follows after Baynes gave help. ... Arizona has won three consecutive games, all at home. "We're playing better as a team and our confidence is high right now," Budinger said. "We're finally ready to win one on the road." The Wildcats are 0-6 on the road this season. ... The loss was the Cougars' first away from Pullman in the Pac-10 season. It was also the first time they played in a truly hostile arena. "It's a new experience for some of our guys," Bennett said, alluding to the freshmen, "and even some of experienced guys had trouble out there." ... Thompson, coming off a career-high 28 in the ASU upset, struggled on both ends. He was 3 of 13 from the floor – 2 of 7 from beyond the arc – and picked up three first half fouls. This was the second consecutive game Bennett gambled and put Thompson back in the first half with two and it only took 10 seconds for it to backfire. In the second-half 16-0 run, the freshman gave up the baseline twice in-a-row and earned words from Bennett. "I think defensively, I hope that was it, let's put it that way," Bennett said when asked if the foul trouble made him tentative. "We don't allow baseline (drives) and he got whupped twice. He picked up his third one and he didn't want to pick up his fourth one early." ... Though they led by five at the half, Bennett thought they left a larger lead unclaimed. "I thought we had a chance in the first half to be up even more than we were," Bennett said. "A couple of mental errors. I'm going to keep preaching to our guys eliminate the mental errors, eliminate the careless turnovers and value each possession. Hard way to play, but we have to embrace it because that's our only chance. I understand that and kids sometimes understand it, but not always." ... WSU had no more than 10 turnovers in six of its last seven Pac-10 games. The Cougars had seven in the second-half alone and finished with 13. "I thought we exploited some things early against their zone," Bennett said, "and then they exploited some things against us later." ... Both teams were 22 of 55 from the floor (40 percent). UA outscored Washington State by 12 at the line.

•••

• That's it for now. I'm headed back up to Phoenix before getting on a plane to Spokane. We'll be back in the morning sometime with our usual day-after post. Till then …




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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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