Washington State’s young and impressionable men’s basketball team has learned much in recent weeks.
It has learned how to play well on the road. And it has learned how to play well without starting point guard, Donminic Ellison.
But it still hasn’t learned how to win in an unfriendly environment like McKale Court against a quality opponent like Arizona.
That was evident Thursday night as the Cougars, with Ellison at home with the chicken pox, pushed the 12th-ranked Wildcats to the absolute edge before bowing 84-76 in a wonderfully entertaining Pacific-10 Conference shootout.
The Cougars (5-3 in the Pac-10, 10-6 overall) used a baseline drive and bucket by Mark Hendrickson to slice UA’s 41-33 halftime lead to 76-74 with 1:30 left, but were cruelly turned back when the Wildcats’ Joe McClean buried a crushing 3-pointer from the right wing with just less than a minute to go.
That made it 79-74 and Arizona (6-2, 16-4) closed the deal by making 5 of 6 free throws in the final 39 seconds.
Afterward, first-year WSU coach Kevin Eastman called his team’s effort one of the “guttiest” he has witnessed.
“It’s probably the proudest I’ve ever been of any team I’ve been associated with - as a player, an assist or as a head coach,” he said following an initial venture into McKale in front of another sellout crowd of 14,257. “We did some things to Arizona that no one, this year, has done.
“I thought we did everything and then some to be able to put our kids in a position to win the game and, unfortunately, did not,” Eastman added. “Some of it was circumstance, some of it was missed shots and some was that we fouled the wrong people at times.”
The Cougars, who got 23 points from Isaac Fontaine, 16 from Shamon Antrum and 13 points and 12 rebounds from Hendrickson, entered leading the nation with a shooting percentage of 53.3.
But they missed their first eight shots against the Wildcats, converted only 11 of 18 free throws and made only 41.1 percent (30 for 73) of their field goals overall.
Still, they managed to hang around the entire game, thanks to the outstanding board work of Hendrickson and the play of Antrum and true freshman Chris Griffin. Antrum and Griffin had to defend Arizona’s all-American point guard, Damon Stoudamire.
The two, who shared duty at the point in the absence of Ellison, pressured Stoudamire the entire game, kept a hand in his face and held him to 16 points - six below his average.
But the Wildcats had too many other weapons, like senior forward Ray Owes, who scored 19 points, and reserve center Ben Davis, who matched Stoudamire’s 16.
“Arizona’s good,” Eastman admitted, “because they took a pretty good shot from us. We played pretty darn good and they didn’t crack at all.”
Wildcats coach Lute Olson had few problems with the way his team played, except for fact that it was outrebounded, 40-38.
Of particular concern was the eight offensive boards Hendrickson corraled, despite playing only 9 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
“We’ve seen a lot of good offensive rebounders come in here through the years,” Olson said, “but I don’t think anybody does a better job of getting after it than Mark.”
Arizona 84, Washington St. 76
WASHINGTON ST. (10-6)
Fontaine 8-21 5-7 23, Hendrickson 6-15 1-2 13, Mack 3-5 2-4 8, Antrum 6-14 2-3 16, Griffin 3-11 0-0 7, Daniel 2-3 1-2 5, Vik 2-3 0-0 4, Corkrum 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-73 11-18 76.
Owes 5-9 9-9 19, Williams 2-6 0-0 5, Blair 3-9 0-0 6, Stoudamire 4-10 5-6 16, Geary 2-5 0-1 5, McLean 1-2 4-4 7, Davis 6-10 4-5 16, Dickerson 4-7 0-0 10, Eafon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 22-25 84.
Halftime-Arizona 41, Washington St. 33. 3-Point goals- Washington St. 5-16 (Fontaine 2-5, Antrum 2-6, Griffin 1-3, Hendrickson 0-1, Vik 0-1), Arizona 8-16 (Stoudamire 3-6, Dickerson 2-2, McLean 1-2, Geary 1-3, Williams 1-3). Fouled out-Mack, Hendrickson. Rebounds-Washington St. 40 (Hendrickson 12), Arizona 38 (Blair 7). Assists-Washington St. 22 (Antrum 7), Arizona 19 (Stoudamire 11). Total fouls- Washington St. 19, Arizona 14. A-14,257.
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