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Hot-shooting Stanford humbles Washington State in Pac-12 road contest

Jan. 12, 2017 Updated Thu., Jan. 12, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.

Stanford guard Robert Cartwright signals after making a 3-pointer against Washington State during the first half  Thursday  in Stanford, California. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Stanford guard Robert Cartwright signals after making a 3-pointer against Washington State during the first half Thursday in Stanford, California. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

PALO ALTO, Calif. – The game against a struggling Stanford team should have been a great chance for Washington State to continue building on an encouraging start to the conference season, possibly securing a Bay Area split and guaranteeing a winning Pac-12 record through three weeks of league play.

But instead, Thursday’s 84-54 loss was the biggest stinker of the year for the Cougars, who must figure out how a team that had appeared ready to compete with its peers could be beaten so badly by a team that had not previously won a conference game.

“They came out ready to kill,” Conor Clifford said. “And we didn’t.”

There were hints that the game would be more difficult than it appeared on paper. Flight delays forced the Cougars to arrive late and tired, and the pregame practice happened at Whitworth instead of Stanford’s campus.

Reid Travis, the Cardinal’s starting power forward and perhaps most imposing player, played 20 minutes against the Cougars despite having been listed as out indefinitely with an injury that caused him to miss Stanford’s previous two games.

“I told Reid I wished he had one more game he would have been out,” Ernie Kent said. “I think him coming back gave them an emotion boost, certainly gave them a toughness boost, and it gave us a matchup problem right off the bat.”

But nothing could have foreshadowed just how uncompetitive the Cougars (9-7, 2-2 Pac-12) would be against the Cardinal (9-8, 1-4). After just 5 minutes, Stanford led 16-3, and from there the game quickly became just a task that had to be completed.

Stanford hit its shots and the Cougars missed almost all of them, shooting just 32.1 percent from the field. When the Cardinal needed an offensive rebound, they got them. When WSU had extra possessions, it often lost them. While the Cougars had 11 only turnovers, most were unforced and many of them led to points.

Despite the presence of Josh Hawkinson, the Pac-12’s No. 2 rebounder, and 7-footer Clifford, the Cougars were beaten up badly on the boards. Stanford outrebounded WSU 43-25 and scored 12 second-chance points.

“Physically they just manhandled us,” Kent said. “Defensively, we had no answers. Offensively, we had no answers. They played with an enormous amount of confidence and toughness.”

Point guard Robert Cartwright led the Cardinal with 21 points, hitting 5 of 7 3-point attempts. He, Dorian Picks and Travis Reid combined to score 56 points and make 23 of 37 field-goal attempts.

It was Stanford’s day, a fact everyone in the gym seemed to realize and accept in the first couple of minutes. The Cardinal players rose to the occasion by making every shot they flung up and spiking balls back in the Cougars’ faces. The visiting team was called for multiple first-half travels, which were blessings since those turnovers did not immediately turn into dunks.

The Cardinal led 48-23 at halftime. WSU came out strongly in the opening minutes of the second half and scored 10 points in the first 5 minutes. But that surge quickly petered out.

While WSU’s two previous Pac-12 wins had come against two of the conference’s lesser teams in Oregon State and Washington, it had a competitive showing against Oregon hinted at progress for a team that won only one conference matchup last season.

Thursday’s game was a chance to reaffirm that this year’s team is different, that it can beat teams of similar talent or at least be competitive on the road.

Therefore the blowout loss is a sobering reminder of WSU’s weakness and what lies ahead. Remaining is a UCLA team that looks like a national championship contender, an Arizona team that is not far behind, a USC team that seems to think baskets only count if they are dunked and a Utah team that humbled USC.

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