Washington State ended the nonconference portion of its schedule on a down note, struggling in the second half on both ends of the court and falling to Butler, 84-68 in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic. We have our game story on the link.
• I guess I could sit here and deconstruct the Cougars loss, but it's Christmas night and no one wants to read that. I'm not even sure anyone will want to read the story I put together, but we'll put it on the blog here anyway. Hey, by the way, thanks for all the nice comments. Think I'll forward them all to my boss. That should help the old job evaluation in 2011. Anyhow, here's the story ...
The Butler Bulldogs rode sophomore Gordon Hayward and a strong supporting cast on a magical drive to the NCAA title game last season, coming up a basket short against Duke.
Hayward is gone, on to the NBA, but the remaining Bulldogs showed Saturday night the magic can still be summoned.
At least in stretches. And that's all the Bulldogs needed to roll over Washington State, 84-68, in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic tournament before 6,367 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"They're a really good basketball team," said Washington State coach Ken Bone of the 9-4 Bulldogs. "I think they have four seniors and a few juniors and those kids have played in this system a long time, they know the system well. And it's very, very difficult to guard."
Especially in one quick stretch that earned the Bulldogs the tournament title.
Tied at 40, WSU had the ball to end the first half, holding a chance to take the final shot. Bone took a time out with 19.4 seconds left and WSU inbounded the ball under its basket.
It came in to Klay Thompson, who finished with a game-high 31 points and a tournament-record 79 in the three games. But on this possession Thompson, open in the left corner, couldn't hit the 3-pointer, one of the six he missed in 10 attempts.
Butler controlled the rebound, set up a play and Shelvin Mack turned the corner off a screen to score as the half ended.
"I don't think that cost us the game," Bone said, "but it gives them a little momentum going into halftime."
That momentum carried over into the second half, with Ronald Nored coming off a ball screen, scoring and getting to the line for a 3-point play on Butler's first possession.
"There were a couple times on screens when we did not get through the screen quick enough," Bone said. "You've really got to fight to get through their screens quickly to be able to have a chance to contest their shots."
Though Marcus Capers answered with a jumper on the other end, the Bulldogs led 43-40 with 19 minutes, 23 seconds left.
And just 5:27 later, they led 58-40. The title was theirs.
The 15-0 run was started by a Matt Howard 3-pointer – the 6-foot-8 senior post was the tournament MVP after scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the title game – and fueled by the shooting of senior guard Zach Hahn, who had not hit a shot in the tournament, but made 4 of 9, including three 3-pointers, en route to 14 points.
"What hurt us was that first 6, 7 minutes of the second half," Bone said after the Cougars finished nonconference play with a 10-2 record. "That was a turning point."
The Bulldogs ran their motion offense to near perfection in the second half, shooting 53.8 percent to finish 28 of 56 for the game. They are the first team to hit half their shots against WSU this season, which was holding opponents to 35.7 percent coming in.
"I thought they played with more energy than us," Bone said. "That's what was disappointing."
Sophomore center Andrew Smith scored a season-high 14 points, not missing in five attempts from the field.
Butler was even deadly from beyond the arc, hitting 11 of 27 (40.7 percent, as Mack, Hahn and Chase Stigall all had three. The Cougars were holding their opponents to 25.7 percent beyond the arc coming into the game.
After featuring balanced scoring against Baylor in the semifinals two nights previously, the Cougars had no one in double figures other than Thompson, who hit 10 of 18 shots.
During Butler's game-deciding run, the Cougars missed seven consecutive shots – three inside by DeAngelo Casto – and turned the ball over twice. When Faisal Aden finally scored on a drive with 13:43 left, WSU had gone almost 6 minutes without scoring.
After trailing by as many as 19 (61-42) WSU crawled back within 10 once at 60-50 after Reggie Moore hit one of two free throws – the Cougars were 13 of 18 from the line, Butler 17 of 24. But Hahn answered by burying an open 3 and WSU never got closer than 13 again.
Now Washington State heads to Southern California, where they will open Pac-10 play Wednesday at UCLA.
"We're 10-2, we've played a good schedule, some good teams," Bone said. "I think we're well prepared for Pac-10 play."
• That's all for tonight. We'll be back at some point before Tuesday, as we preview Pac-10 play. Until then ...