BERKELEY, Calif. – It was a game in which Washington State did a lot right.
The Cougars broke out to an 11-point lead in the first 8 minutes. They shot better than they have in any Pac-10 game, including hitting seven of their first nine shots. They passed the ball well, with their conference-best 17 assists. They rebounded, they defended passionately, they took care of the ball.
And they lost.
To Cal. Again.
The Bears had too much Patrick Christopher. They got more from their bench. They made all the key plays down the stretch.
And they defeated WSU for the second time this men’s basketball season, this one 71-63 in front of 9,197 at venerable Haas Pavilion on Saturday night.
“I felt we were much better in this game than against Stanford,” said WSU coach Tony Bennett, harkening back to Thursday night’s listless 65-54 loss at Stanford. “Obviously, we lost both, and that counts the same.”
The Cougars may have lost for the fifth time in six games, but, unlike the Stanford defeat, they had a shot in this one.
When Klay Thompson hit the second of back-to-back 3-pointers with 2:50 left, the back-and-forth game was tied at 60.
The Bears (18-6, 7-4) called timeout to get the ball in Christopher’s hands. The junior, who won Pac-10 player of the week honors after scoring 22 points in the 57-50 win in Pullman, has been slumping, with 13 points in his last three games.
However, the Cougars (12-11, 4-7 and tied for eighth) seemed to be an elixir, as Christopher hit seven of his first nine shots en route to 20 points.
His 10th attempt came out of the timeout, on a drive against Nik Koprivica with Aron Baynes coming over to help.
Christopher missed, but with both Cougars out of position, he was able to grab the rebound and get fouled by Baynes on the follow.
He hit the first free throw – Cal finished 13 of 16, WSU 1 of 1 from the line – to give the Bears the lead for good. The second bounced twice off the rim, Baynes mistimed his jump and Harper Kamp grabbed it. A second chance, only Cal’s second in the second half.
“It’s all the little things,” Rochestie said. “All game we talked about free-throw blockout. We didn’t give up one all game and then, 2 minutes to go … we would have been down one with the ball.
“Instead, they get the ball and I foul (Jerome) Randle and we go down three.”
But that’s how tight games turn.
When Randle hit the two free throws and Klay Thompson missed from long range for only the second time all night, WSU was in trouble.
Theo Robertson changed trouble to done with a back cut for a layup and five-point lead, part of his 17 points. The Cougars never got closer than four after that.
“We left the basket unprotected,” Bennett said of Robertson’s bucket.”
As well as WSU executed on offense – the Cougars shot 56.3 percent from the floor and hit 8 of 17 3-point shots – its defense wasn’t as effective.
“We played a better game than we played against Stanford, definitely,” said Koprivica, who had four points, five assists and no turnovers in a starting role. “We made them earn everything. … They just made shots.”
Still, Cal made them. The Bears hit 25 of 47 attempts from the floor, including 8 of 12 of their long-range shots. Since late in the Arizona game, WSU has seen opponents nail 20 of 28 3-point attempts.
“Most of the time tonight, we made them earn them,” Bennett said. “It seemed like there were some tough shots being made. Against Stanford, our defense was poor.”
Still, Christopher hit 3 of 4, Randle 4 of 5 en route to 20 points and Robertson, the nation’s leader, 1 of 2.
Though Rochestie responded with four 3-pointers as part of his 19 points and Thompson added 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, the Cougars didn’t have enough firepower. Caleb Forrest stepped up with 13 more in a starting role, but Baynes was held to 10 by a trio of Bears defenders. The biggest difference was the bench, which did not score in Pullman and had just two points – DeAngelo Casto’s first half putback – in this one.
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