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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Halftime leads no lock for Cougars

WSU coach Ken Bone isn’t enjoying the final seconds of a 71-69 loss to Gonzaga in December. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – Their relief wasn’t hard to understand. After losing so many close games this season, the Washington State Cougars finally pulled one out on Saturday by beating Oregon State, 71-68, making clutch free throws and holding on down the stretch.

That they were in a position to win was no surprise. WSU has held second-half leads in 19 of its 20 games this season – that’s 95 percent – the only exception being a 78-41 loss to Kansas.

Today’s 8 p.m. game against Arizona State (16-4, 5-2 Pac-12) could provide another challenge in the same regard.

What follows is an exploration of each winnable loss, with an emphasis placed on each team’s performance in the final 10 minutes. Some went down to the wire. Some slipped away earlier than that. But all were games in which the Cougars led at some point after halftime and had a reasonable expectation of victory.

Pepperdine 58, WSU 56 (OT): The Cougars’ largest lead in the second half was 50-42 with 4:00 remaining. They missed their final three field goal attempts of regulation and committed five turnovers in the final 10 minutes. DaVonte Lacy’s 3-pointer was WSU’s only field goal in overtime, during which they committed another three turnovers – including two in the final minute – and Pepperdine scored the game’s final five points to escape with the win.

Texas A&M 55, WSU 54: The numbers suggest WSU should have won this one. The Cougars made 5 of 6 from the field in the final 10 minutes, while the Aggies made 5 of 11 and missed 5 of 8 free throws. But WSU also committed five turnovers in the same span, and Elston Turner’s miracle 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining marked an improbable ending to an ugly game. WSU’s largest lead was 44-38 with eight minutes left.

Gonzaga 71, WSU 69: Hard to fault the Cougars here. They outplayed Gonzaga down the stretch, coming back from a 56-45 deficit with 7:51 remaining, eventually taking a 64-63 lead at the 1:29 mark. The Cougars made five of their final six field-goal attempts – four of them 3-pointers – and tied the game on a Lacy layup inside the final 10 seconds. But Kevin Pangos made a tough runner on the other end to win it.

Washington 68, WSU 63: WSU fell in an early 21-4 hole, but shot its way to a 56-52 lead with 5:44 to go. The Cougars’ undoing came both offensively and defensively in the final five minutes, during which WSU made just one field goal (1 for 5) and UW didn’t miss (6 for 6).

Stanford 78, WSU 67: Up 55-51 with 6:26 to go, WSU went cold from the field. And Stanford, one of the conference’s poorest-shooting teams, couldn’t miss. The Cardinal shot 8 for 10 from the field and 18 for 20 from the free-throw line in the final 10 minutes of the game, while WSU missed six consecutive shots and eight of its final 12 attempts. Stanford scored 37 points in the final 10 minutes, and 20 in the final five.

California 67, WSU 54: This one got away from the Cougars a little earlier than the others. They led 41-38 with 15:05 to play, but the Golden Bears’ defense clamped down in a big way over the final 10 minutes. WSU made just 4 of 17 from the field in that span, while Cal attempted only five field goals and made 16 of its 18 free throws.

Colorado 58, WSU 49: WSU’s 5-for-16 shooting during the final 10 minutes was only slightly worse than their overall percentage of 34.5. Still, the Cougars led 37-35 with 10 minutes to play. Then Colorado started making shots.

Oregon 68, WSU 61: A 10-point halftime lead withered in the second half’s opening minutes, and Oregon pulled away down the stretch after WSU held its final lead of 53-52 with 7:38 to play. The Cougars missed all 11 of their second-half 3-point attempts.

Inside the numbers

WSU’s field-goal percentage in the final 10 minutes of the aforementioned losses hasn’t been bad: 47.2 percent. But the Cougars have allowed opponents to shoot 56.8 percent in the same time span during those losses, and opponents also make 76 percent of their free throws in the final 10 minutes compared with just 62.7 percent for WSU.