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Cougars light it up against UTSA

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 6, 2014

PULLMAN—Washington State left Beasley Coliseum ice-cold following an embarrassing display of poor shooting in its last game. But the Cougars sizzled on Saturday during a 91-71 romp over visiting Texas-San Antonio.

Of course, somebody had already preheated the gym.

Following Wednesday’s 77-71 loss to Idaho on Wednesday, in which the Cougars made just 5 of 30 3-point attempts, DaVonte Lacy said that he and his teammates needed to head to the gym and shoot.

In fact, he never left, staying at Beasley until 2 a.m., until he was too tired to continue and his form deteriorated.

“That’s probably the worst feeling I’ve felt as a basketball player,” Lacy said of the Idaho loss.

“I was so embarrassed and I think I can speak for the team, we all were,” he continued. “I didn’t want that to carry over and I knew I could have played better, I should have played better and I was going to play better the next game.”

He played much better, making a career-high eight 3-pointers and scoring 31 points. After the win he credited his teammates for putting him in position to score, and all eight of his outside shots came courtesy of a teammate’s assist.

But it was Lacy’s early offense that sparked the rest of the Cougars, who needed only seven attempts to make five 3-pointers on Saturday. Lacy outscored the Roadrunners until there were about 7 minutes left in the first half and he accounted for 21 points in WSU’s 52-26 halftime lead.

The Cougars again shot 30 3-pointers, making 18 of them to tie the school’s single-game record. In recent years, difficulty scoring has encumbered WSU and the team averaged just 66.4 points entering the game.

For once outside shooting was the reason the Cougars won, because without the early cushion it provided the Cougars would have been in for a struggle.

The Roadrunners began to press the Cougars in the backcourt early during the second half and WSU’s guards were hesistant to the point of being timid, often passing two or more times before crossing the half-court line or forcing a bad pass.

WSU turned it over 13 times in the second half and UTSA scored 23 points off those turnovers. It’s a problem that is particularly irksome for coach Ernie Kent, who sees an opponent’s press as an opportunity for his up-tempo style of offense to flourish.

“I thought we were too passive; we were trying to set up,” Kent said. “If you break a press and set up, I’m going to continue to press you. If you break a press and go score, I’m going to take the press off of you. We need to go score against the press more.”

The press did provide an opportunity for freshman Trevor Dunbar to contribute. After some initial hesitation he became WSU’s most effective player against pressure and was able to get up the floor quickly and stress the Roadrunners with some nifty dribbling.

Led by guard Ryan Bowie, who scored 22 points, the Roadrunners were the more attacking team and made more free throws (18 of 29) than the Cougars attempted (11 of 15).

Of course, with the way the Cougars were shooting from the outside, there wasn’t an urgent need to attack the basket.

While the 60 percent clip the Cougars shot from behind the arc and from the field is unlikely to be sustainable, the signs of life showed from WSU’s interior players could hold greater consequence for the season.

Jordan Railey scored nine points in 16 minutes off the bench, including a vicious one-handed slam over UTSA’s James Ringholt in the final minute that caused a few seconds of pandemonium among the 1,915 people in the crowd and the 10 on WSU’s bench.

“It was nice to see the response of the players, because he’s another player that has not had a lot of success, in practice or in the games,” Kent said. “He’s not played a lot. He could have got his head down. He’s worked extremely hard the last few days and hopefully this can get him going because we need him.”

Railey is 7 feet tall and obviously athletic but has rarely looked comfortable in his two years on the court for WSU since transferring from Iowa State. But he played with energy Saturday, blocked a pair of shots, and looked like an inside piece the Cougars desperately need heading into next week’s game against No. 9 Gonzaga.

Forward Aaron Cheatum was WSU’s first sub off the bench. He played only six minutes but was active and appears to be improving.

With the win the Cougars improve to 4-4 and have won three of their last four games. Lacy has scored 31 points twice in that stretch and if he’s really found his rhythm and can force defenses to devote extra attention to him then the rest of WSU’s offensive issues could be mitigated.

Lacy, however, said he’s still not over the loss to the Vandals.

“It’s kind of like when you burn your tongue,” Lacy said. “It’s still there, you still feel it, so I’ve got a couple weeks to get that taste out of my mouth.”

If that means a couple more weeks of late-night shooting sessions and the offense that accompanies them then that’s good news for the Cougars.

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