PULLMAN – When it came down to it, Washington State just couldn’t get it done.
Couldn’t take care of the ball down the stretch. Couldn’t stop Patrick Christopher. Couldn’t win.
As a result the Cougars lost their fourth consecutive home game and fell to 0-2 in the Pac-10 by allowing the Cal Bears to pull out a 57-50 men’s basketball win in the final 2 minutes before 7,221 at Beasley Coliseum on Thursday night.
“I thought the guys battled hard and fought longer,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “We didn’t unravel early. … (We) just have to keep fighting and last longer, not break down, down the stretch.”
“A loss is a loss,” senior Taylor Rochestie said after doing his best to forestall such a result, hitting 8 of 14 shots en route to a season-high 19 points. “It’s all about winning.”
Which is something the Cougars haven’t down since Dec. 21 at Idaho, and they haven’t done on Friel Court in more than a month.
But at least in this one they had a shot late – though it didn’t turn out to be a good one.
After falling behind by as many as nine in the second half, they had crawled back to within 51-47 with 2:23 left. They had the ball after a Jerome Randle turnover. There was a media time out. The crowd was roaring.
It was all there for the taking.
But Cal wouldn’t let the Cougars have it. The Bears (14-2, 3-0 Pac-10) clamped down defensively, using 6-foot-8 Harper Kamp along with four guards, forcing contested pass after contested pass and finally forcing Klay Thompson to create at the end of an expiring shot clock.
“Man, he got it going really good in the first half, so I was just trying to contain him a little,” Christopher said. “It looked like he was trying to find a way to get his shot off.”
Christopher made it a tough one, forcing Thompson to the baseline, where the freshman missed and Kamp cleared.
“That’s what you have to do down the stretch in tough defensive games,” Bennett said. “You have to be able to make some tough shots. You don’t always have to create it. But if someone kicks it to you and you’re in rhythm, you’ve got to knock it down.”
Which Christopher accomplished on the other end, doing what he did all night: scoring when Cal needed a bucket.
None compared to his last basket, however. The 6-5 junior broke back door, leaped and caught Randle’s pass about 2 feet above the rim before ramming it home.
“He’s pretty athletic and hard to guard,” said an obviously dejected Nik Koprivica, who guarded Christopher much of the second half. “I fell asleep (the) last possession. It was an amazing, amazing dunk, but I still should have been (in) much better position to defend that.”
Two WSU turnovers – the Cougars had just six – and a missed shot allowed Cal to score two fast-break baskets in the final 77 seconds.
Christopher, who was this week’s Pac-10 player of the week, finished with 22 points, hitting 9 of 14 mostly contested shots. And the Bears, who have won eight consecutive games, needed it, because, other than Christopher’s 4 of 6, the rest of the nation’s best 3-point shooting team (50.5 percent) was 1 of 8 from long range.
That included a bagel in five attempts for the 5-foot-10 Randle, the nation’s individual leader, guarded most of the night by Rochestie.
“He’s good at guarding those little quick guys that every big guard hates to guard,” Thompson said of Rochestie’s effort against Randle, who came in averaging 19.5 points a game but finished with eight.
Still, Christopher got outside help from Theo Robertson (4 of 6 for 11 points) and inside assistance from Jamal Boykin (12 points and 14 rebounds).
Even with Rochestie winning his battle with Randle and Thompson adding 14 points – all but two in the first half – the Cougars didn’t have enough firepower – again.
The Cougars’ Aron Baynes struggled against Kamp’s physical defense and was 2 of 9 from the floor. Caleb Forrest passed up some open looks early and finished with just four points. Koprivica, playing in front of his parents who traveled from Serbia, took just five shots and had five points.
Plus the Cougars’ four bench players, who combined for 44 minutes, didn’t score.
“Zeros all the way down,” Bennett said, looking at the stats. “You have to have some production. That’s tough.”
With the loss, WSU (8-6 overall) head into Saturday’s finale of a three-game, Pac-10-opening homestand needing to salvage a win against Stanford.
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