For about 9 minutes in the first half, it appeared Washington State had woken from a slumber that’s followed the Cougars since their Jan. 9 loss to Stanford.
They were scoring, they were defending, they were taking care of the ball. Then, in the blink of an eye, they were doing none of it.
What followed was a stretch that saw the Cougars go scoreless for 3 minutes, allowing Colorado to make an initial dent in Washington State’s 18-point lead.
Two more scoring droughts in the second half – both of them lasting approximately 6 minutes – were what ultimately doomed the Cougars in a 70-59 loss to the Buffaloes Saturday at Beasley Coliseum.
It’s now five consecutive losses and six in the past seven games for WSU (9-6, 2-6 Pac-12). Because their December game was postponed, the Cougars and Buffaloes will meet again Wednesday night in Boulder .
“I thought we played well for a good portion, had to battle some foul trouble, and when they made their push we caved in a little bit there and couldn’t regain our footing,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “Hat tip to them, they played like the experienced team they are. There’s some positives to take away from it, but we’ll have our hands full going out to Boulder on Wednesday.”
WSU built an early lead on hot shooting, from inside the arc and behind it, and the Cougars made nine of their first 10 attempts, including three of their first four 3-pointers, to go up 23-5. Over the course of the next 3:04, WSU couldn’t get a shot to fall and Colorado big man Evan Battey bullied his way to six of the Buffaloes’ ensuing eight points, allowing the visitors to close the gap to 10 points.
Battey led the Buffaloes with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, and grabbed five rebounds.
“They got a little bit of the best of us there,” Smith said. “Battey’s a good player.”
Despite playing much of the half without McKinley Wright, who left the game at the 13:56 mark when WSU’s Efe Abogidi landed on the legs of the guard, the Buffaloes still trimmed the Cougars’ lead to seven points at halftime.
Wright, who’s considered by many to be a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, returned to the game in the second half and keyed two more big Colorado run. That eventually allowed the Buffaloes to regain the lead and match WSU’s largest lead of the game, at 18 points, with 3:23 to play.
In the second half alone, Wright scored 12 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.
“He made a difference, he’s definitely a senior, played like a senior,” Smith said, also singing the praises of CU’s Eli Parquet, who was a hound on defense with four blocks despite going scoreless. “Parquet was equally effective and he didn’t score a point. He really defended, he seemed like he was all over the place. … I think he’s the unsung hero for them.”
The Cougars didn’t score from the 19:16 mark to the 13:20 mark of the second half and the Buffaloes closed WSU’s lead to one point on Wright’s pull-up jumper. Colorado took the lead for good on a stepback jumper from D’Shawn Schwartz, then continued to build it when the Cougars went another 6 minutes without scoring.
“Second half, I think the first 10 minutes were fine, then after one of the timeouts we just kind of fell apart a little bit,” said sophomore guard Ryan Rapp, who played his first game in a month. “We just kind of forgot what our principles are, which are defend, rebound, take care of the ball.
“We just weren’t competing hard enough. They just outcompeted us, Colorado did, in that second half and we need to make sure we bounce back from that and try to get them on the road next week.”
Coming off a four-point outing against Utah, Isaac Bonton led the Cougars with a game-high 20 points, though it came on 8 of 20 from the field.
Noah Williams hit a career-high four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points, playing much of the second half in foul trouble, and freshman center Dishon Jackson was the third WSU player in double figures, scoring 10.
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