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Grip on Sports: Washington State rallies in the Arena last night but the Cougars’ effort runs out of steam

Washington State Cougars guard Malachi Flynn (22) looks for an open shot against Kansas State during the first half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars guard Malachi Flynn (22) looks for an open shot against Kansas State during the first half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s starve a cold, feed a fever, right? So which one do you drown in coffee? And what happens when your sickness is basketball-related? Read on.

••••••••••

• Days seem to run together this time of year. Is today the first day of winter, or the last day of fall? Is Christmas four days away or three? Was it Washington State playing in the Arena last night or Gonzaga?

For the first half of the game against Kansas State, that answer was easy. The second half, especially the first 10 minutes or so of the second half, it was a little harder to discern.

(And, yes, I know, comparing the Cougars’ and Bulldogs’ basketball fortunes in the same paragraph is going to tick off fans of both schools, which is why I did it. Sometimes I just like playing the role of provocateur.)

The Cougars were all over the map in the first half, which has been something of their M.O. this season. They trailed by as many as 17 points before intermission and were down 10 despite a bit of a rally.

That doesn’t mean they were done, however, as they have rallied enough times this season to give the 4,165 in the Arena some hope.

Maybe the “they” should be rebranded as “Carter Skaggs,” at least this night. The sophomore rained 3-pointers from everywhere, keyed the Cougars as they eliminated the K-State lead in minutes and helped them build an eight-point lead to take down the stretch.

But it didn’t last, mainly because Malachi Flynn ran out of gas.

As the Wildcats adjusted to Skaggs, the sophomore point guard became the go-to guy as WSU and Ernie Kent tried to ride him to the finish line with a nose in front.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Flynn scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime and was making good choices with the ball – a crucial element of the Cougars offense as it is in his hands pretty much every possession.

But one of the underrated aspects of fatigue is what it does to the decision-making process. And as Flynn’s weariness grew while the game ran down, so did his mistakes. A bad shot with a few minutes left. A bad-decision off the ball screen with a minute left. Another too-quick 3-pointer. And, with a chance to tie, a poor decision to take an extra-long triple, sealing the defeat.

Flynn was off the floor for just over two minutes in the second half. There was little opportunity to get him more. He was needed. He’s always needed. But when he was really needed, he wasn’t capable of delivering in this one. A combination of Kansas State’s beat-on-you defense, a lack of rest and the responsibilities he shoulders, wore him down.

He is the maestro of the Washington State attack. As he goes – not just shooting the ball but orchestrating the how, when and where the ball moves – so go the Cougars. He struggled in the opening half. He was exceptional for most of the second. He was worn down by the end.

And WSU came up short, 68-65.

•••

WSU: Theo Lawson was in Spokane last night and he has the game story. He was joined by John Blanchette, who adds a column. Tyler Tjomsland was the photographer on the baseline and has the photo gallery. … It wasn’t just a basketball day. It was also the first day of the new football signing period, with Washington State adding 18 players. Theo has that story as well. … The biggest recruit, in stature if not size, is quarterback Cammon Cooper. The biggest loss? It may end being running back Max Borghi, who has been committed for seemingly forever. But the Denver-area star decided to wait after reportedly receiving an offer from Stanford.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the football signings were probably the biggest stories, with each school happy with their class – of course – and expecting each player to have a great career – of course. Washington may have reaped the best harvest, with its 18 signees, but we won’t know for a couple years. … Oregon and Oregon State both have new coaches, so their groups reflect that. … Colorado’s group has a quarterback that is highly respected. … So does Utah’s group, which is important for the Utes. … Stanford has some interesting names in its class. … California signed a lot of kids. … USC went the other way, with a small group this fall. … UCLA had some ups-and-downs yesterday. … Without a defensive coordinator in place, Arizona State signed its first group under Herm Edwards. … Arizona kept its commits in place…. On the basketball court, USC headed to Hawaii for a tournament without one of its better players. … That’s part of the reason the Trojans are last in this power ranking. … Utah picked up an easy home win as did Oregon.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are not in Spokane this first day of winter. They are in San Diego, where they face always-tough San Diego State on its home floor. Jim Meehan has a preview of GU’s last nonconference game. Jim also looks at the Aztecs’ top player, someone the Bulldogs are well aware of. … The Gonzaga women are playing at home tonight. Jim Allen has a preview of the game with Western Illinois, which defeated Stanford on this road trip.

EWU: The Eagles were at home yesterday afternoon and breezed to a 94-66 win over Providence, an NAIA school out of Great Falls. Jim Allen has that story. … Jim also has a story on the eight players Eastern signed on the first day of the early football period. … The Eagle women’s basketball team won on a last-second 3-pointer. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona was the only school to play last night, winning against Jacksonville. … The NAU football staff will look different next season.

Idaho: For the first time in a couple decades, the Vandals were recruiting under FCS rules. They signed 12 players, split evenly between high school and junior college. Peter Harriman has the story of Paul Petrino’s first class that will play its entire career in the Big Sky.

Preps: It was a big day for a few area high school athletes, as they reached their dream, earning a football scholarship. Dave Nichols was out at Gonzaga Prep, where Devin Culp signed with Washington. … Shadle Park honored longtime coach Tim Gaebe the other night. Dave also has that story. … Finally, Dave has a piece on a local basketball player who has reached a milestone.

Seahawks: Before we get to the ugly part of yesterday, let’s start with the beautiful. The Hawk players have raised a million dollars and their fund will make seven grants to promote equality and justice. … The Bobby Wagner tiff with Earl Thomas looks to still be unresolved. That became clear yesterday when both, speaking separately, saw it differently. And Thomas sounds like someone who is willing to leave. … According to a report, so is Sheldon Richardson.

Mariners: The Mariners let one pitcher go and announced the signing of another. They also announced the field renovations would mean no FanFest in 2018.

•••       

• That’s it for today. I woke up this morning with a cold. The first cold of winter. And I don’t really care. Why? Because after today, each day will get a little longer. We are over the hump and on the rise. Before you know it, it will be spring. We will be back here this evening with our TV Take following the Gonzaga game. Until later … 

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