PULLMAN – Butch T. Cougar made a costume change for the occasion of Stanford’s visit to Beasley Coliseum on Sunday, trading his traditional white basketball jersey for a checkered flannel shirt, complemented by a prop axe.
For all the hacking Washington State has done this season against Stanford, all that’s come out of two meetings with the Cardinal might amount to just a few wood shavings. The Cougars still haven’t come close to bringing down the whole tree.
Behind its stout play in the post and strong 3-point shooting, Stanford commandeered an early lead against WSU and never relinquished it, completing a regular-season sweep of the Cougars with a 75-57 win that handed Kyle Smith’s team – playing again without starting point guard Isaac Bonton (hip) – a fourth consecutive loss and seventh in nine games.
WSU’s 88-62 loss to Stanford in the Bay Area in Janury signified the team’s largest margin of defeat this season. Sunday’s defeat marked the Cougars’ biggest loss at home. And they may not be done with the Cardinal just yet, either.
As things stand now, Stanford holds the No. 7 spot in the Pac-12 standings, while WSU is at No. 10. If those don’t change, the teams would meet in the opening round of the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas. The Cougars have lost their last three games against the Cardinal by a combined 91 points, and they’ve dropped 13 of the last 14 in the series.
“Everyone in this league is good, there’s no nights off,” Smith said. “But we’ll take whoever we get. I’m proud of us, because I know this team’s a little bit of a bugaboo. … It was better tonight. So, no moral victories but we competed much better, tried to play right. Got to put the ball in the basket.”
No moral victories, but maybe there are a few crimson linings available for Smith’s Cougars. One of those being, WSU and Stanford have a combined seven games to play, and with five games separating first place from 11th in the Pac-12, it seems almost nothing will be settled until the final weekend of the regular season.
“I don’t think we care who we play, we’ve shown we can compete with anyone,” WSU guard Jervae Robinson said. “We’ve beat the best, lost to some teams who’ve been at the bottom, so I feel like the conference is anyone’s right now and it doesn’t matter who’s first or 12th. Anyone can win, so we just want our shot.”
As Smith alluded to, the Cougars are creeping closer to Stanford, and felt they should’ve been more competitive through the final 12 minutes of Sunday’s game after trimming the deficit to 47-43 when Jervae Robinson finished a scoop layup to extend an 8-0 run for WSU.
But the Cougars squandered the next two minutes, and effectively the game, when Spencer Jones drilled a 3-pointer to spark a 6-0 run that restored Stanford’s double-digit lead – something WSU had a hard time cracking into the rest of the way.
“We were guarding them well … then we kind of ran out of gas a little bit,” senior forward Jeff Pollard said. “Foul trouble kind of snuck up on us a little bit, so we kind of had to shorten the bench a little bit and get some guys in there. We just got away from our game plan.”
Perhaps there was a third piece of good news, too. Sunday’s game may be the last the Cougars have to play without Bonton, who was injured Feb. 13 at UCLA. Smith didn’t offer anything firm on Bonton’s availability going forward, but the junior went through pregame warmups and is “getting closer” according to the coach, who was initially hopeful his player would be able to return against Stanford.
WSU (14-14, 5-10) doesn’t play again until Friday when the Cougars visit Washington (13-15, 3-12).
In three games without Bonton, the Cougars have failed to exceed 60 points, they’ve shot 54 of 180 (30 percent) from the field and they’ve gone just 16 of 81 (19 percent) from three-point range. CJ Elleby led WSU with 22 points on 4 of 9 from beyond the arc, but his teammates combined for just 3 of 21.
“It’s hard, some of our young guys are this far along into the season,” Smith said, “and they’ve got to play through it.”
Stanford, led by forward Oscar Da Silva’s 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals, shot an impressive 24 of 43 from the field and went 11 of 23 from distance.
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