PULLMAN — Sunday evening’s loss made official what has been apparent for the better part of a month: Washington State is the Pac-12’s worst basketball team.
The Cougars lost for the 13th consecutive time on Sunday, this time to California, by a score of 80-62. And as the losing streak hit a baker’s dozen, it became mathematically impossible for the Cougars to finish anywhere but last place in the Pac-12.
Book your tickets now, fans! The Cougars (9-18, 1-14 Pac-12) will play the conference’s No. 5 seed on March 12 at 2:30 p.m. at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and try to win their first conference tournament game since 2009.
Coach Ernie Kent has had to put up with some cheekiness since he told the reporters at Pac-12 Media Day, “If we’re the last place team, this conference is going to be a really, really good conference.
To Kent’s credit, he wasn’t wrong. The Pac-12 seems likely to send at least half of its member schools to the NCAA tournament and appears to have finally regained the depth and talent of those heady mid-2000s days.
But what good are 11 tough rivals to a team that can’t beat any of them? Sunday was Senior Night, WSU’s final home game of the season. The Cougars have three more games to play before heading to Las Vegas, all of them on the road – where they have yet to pick up a single victory this season.
And so, the four or more games remaining in WSU’s season are now opportunities to springboard into next season. Kent refers to the losing that the Cougars are doing as “learning,” and says that their youngest players will play more going forward.
With 44 seconds left, seniors Brett Boese and Junior Longrus left the court to a standing ovation from the crowd of 3,203. Afterwards, Kent hinted that the 25 minutes or so they combine to average each game will mostly be divvied up among players who figure into the team’s plans for next year.
“To me it’s learning, not losing,” Kent said. “Because you learn what to do, you learn what you need, you learn where to tweak things, you learn about your opponent, you learn about the conference, and you get ready for the next round of building your program. Part of that right now is developing (freshmen) Viont’e (Daniels) and Robert Franks, those guys need to play more and they’ll get an opportunity to do that.”
Kent and Que Johnson, who led the Cougars with 17 points, paid their respects to the seniors by praising the manner in which they’ve kept the team’s morale up doing its conference struggles.
“We’ve struggled this season, but they bring their energy every day,” Johnson said. “We’ve never seen them mope or frown. They bring a smile every day. Their energy. They’re always talking. Through these tough times they’re showing their character.”
Cal (19-8, 9-5) did not take long to establish itself as the better team, one so flush with talent that even Jordan Mathews, who has scored 18 or more points seven times this season, does not start.
Freshman Jaylen Brown, who will likely be an NBA lottery pick after one year of college, drained a deep two-pointer to score the game’s first points, and hit a 3-pointer on Cal’s next trip down the court.
Another freshman, Ivan Rabb, hammered home an alley-oop dunk off an inbounds pass. Jabari Bird drained a 3-pointer and the Golden Bears led 12-2 after just more than three minutes of play.
The Golden Bears shot too well for the Cougars to ever make a real run at a comeback, with Bird, Mathews and Tyrone Wallace combining to make 8 of 9 3-point attempts.
WSU made 40.4 percent of its shots, not nearly enough to keep up with hot-shooting Cal, which drained 58 percent of its shots.
“They were knocking down their shots and made a good percentage of their 3-pointers,” Josh Hawkinson said. “It felt like we had really good looks. We got open, we just couldn’t make the same shots they were hitting. We got put in positions to allow us to score and we just missed.”
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