Washington State played its most valiant game in two years on Thursday, trading baskets for all but a few minutes despite a hostile crowd and talented opponents at No. 7 Arizona.
But a few minutes were all the Wildcats needed to turn the tight game into a comfortable win, beating the Cougars 79-62 thanks to just a few moments of dominance.
The Cougars defended well, made plays on offense and did not wilt in front of 14,644 fans at McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona. There were plenty of positives, but they were not enough for coach Ernie Kent, who expressed frustration with his team letting the game get away from them in the final minutes.
“You can say all that, but we still lost by 17,” Kent told Matt Chazznow on the IMG postgame radio show. “(The Wildcats) played so many people just like they played us, where there’s an excellent game plan but … their efficiency doesn’t deviate. The crowd rises up, they step up and you’ve got to step up with them.”
The Cougars trailed by three with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game. A layup by UA’s Dusan Ristic sparked a 15-3 Wildcats run that spanned more than 3 minutes and sapped the Cougars of their ability to win. The Wildcats made seven of their last eight field-goal attempts, and the Cougars were too tired to keep up.
The Wildcats bench outscored their Cougars counterparts 25-6. That was due in large part to guard Allonzo Trier, who scored a team-high 17 points in his second game this season, having recently returned from a suspension for failing a drug test for banned substances.
Trier was one of the team’s best scorers last season as a freshman.
“I’m still really far behind,” he told reporters after the game. “This is my second game in 10 months. Everybody is ahead of me. I’m not in rhythm (yet).”
The Cougars (10-10, 3-5 Pac-12) have not beaten a team ranked as high since the last time they beat No. 7 Arizona, 10 years ago.
A major difference between the teams was the ability to capitalize off turnovers. Though both teams only turned the ball over nine times, the Wildcats held a 14-2 lead in points off turnovers.
The Cougars were led by center Conor Clifford, who scored 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. That was despite the presence of UA’s star freshman center Lauri Markkanen, a skilled 7-footer who made 4 of 7 3-point attempts while on offense, and physical forward Dusan Ristic.
“I’m very proud of (Clifford) for the way he handled himself down here,” Kent said. “Those are some athletic big men, and he was a load for them.”
Kent was also happy with the play of freshman point guard Malachi Flynn, who had 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in his first game in an arena as full and frenetic as McKale. Despite lots of pressure from UA’s guards, Flynn did not turn the ball over once.
“He’s a player and players love to perform,” Kent said. “They love to play in front of big crowds because it’s an opportunity to show what they can do.”
The Cougars will have two days off before facing Arizona State (11-9, 3-5) at 11 a.m. Sunday.
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