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WSU Men's Basketball

Myles Rice hits 3 at buzzer to force OT, but WSU blows late lead in 81-75 loss to Cal

Washington State’s Andrej Jakimovski scans the court during Saturday’s Pac-12 game against California in Berkeley, Calif.  (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)

BERKELEY, Calif. – It’s hard to squander a seven-point lead inside of 2 minutes. Washington State pulled it off in an 81-75 overtime loss to Cal on Saturday afternoon.

Here are the Cougars’ offensive trips down the floor after redshirt freshman Myles Rice connected on a 1-foot runner to give WSU a 65-58 lead with 2:03 left.

  • Rice missed 3-pointer;
  • Shot-clock violation out of a timeout;
  • Rice missed midrange jumper.

Rice followed it with one of the best plays of his career, a fly-by 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. But when the extra session began, it became clear the Cougs didn’t have many answers besides Rice making tough shots. They dug themselves a quick 6-0 hole in overtime and, thanks to Cal guard Jaylon Tyson’s 30-point afternoon, they could not respond.

It was a Quad 3 loss for Washington State (13-6, 4-4 Pac-12), the second worst of its kind. The Cougs used a win over Stanford on Thursday to bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament, which they have not reached since 2008, and they needed to top Cal (7-12, 3-5) – one of the Pac-12’s struggling teams – to avoid a bad setback.

Instead, WSU’s tournament aspirations took a serious blow. The Cougars weren’t on many bracketology projections anyway, but they were nearing the bubble. They have lots of opportunities to improve their resume – they own a Quad 1 home win over Arizona – but these are the kinds of losses that can swing the margins.

“We just kind of looked like a deer in the headlights,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “Some of that’s on me. We gotta be a whole lot grittier.”

For so long during the second half, the Cougs looked to be in control. They used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 42-all. They took the lead on back-to-back turnaround hook shots from forward Isaac Jones, who totaled 13 points and seven rebounds. WSU kept a seven-point lead until the final 2 minutes.

Then it fell apart for the visitors. Big man Fardaws Aimaq burned WSU for a three-point play. Then, playing the 2-3 zone they have used heavily this season, the Cougars gave up a wing 3-pointer to Tyson, who followed with an easy layup, good for a 66-65 lead. Cal guard Jalen Cone was fouled by Rice on a fast break and hit both free throws.

Rice responded by head-faking on a 3-pointer, letting Cone fly by and burying the shot. The Cougs didn’t hold on to the emotional lift for long.

“They wanted it a little more, it felt like,” Smith said of the Golden Bears. “We gotta hopefully learn from that moving forward.”

Many factors led to Washington State blowing the lead. With a shade under 4 minutes to play, WSU nursing a 59-53 lead, Smith substituted in forward Oscar Cluff for freshman big man Rueben Chinyelu, who recorded four points, eight rebounds and three critical blocks. Chinyelu was providing important rim protection, but Smith thought it more important to get Cluff’s offense.

Cluff, who rolled his ankle on Thursday against Stanford, had spent much of Friday’s practice getting it worked on by a trainer. During Saturday’s game, Cluff scored seven points, grabbed two rebounds and was whistled for four fouls in 23 minutes.

“It was more offense-defense,” Smith said of his decision to pull Chinyelu for Cluff. “Rueben played well. We were up one and we went to Rueben there, and Tyson got the drive down the lane, but it wasn’t his fault. In that stretch to go up seven, I thought Oscar got some key rebounds and made some plays. … Reuben might have been playing a little better there in the second half.”

Another development from the game: It’s becoming clear the Cougars are thin in the shot-creating department. Nearly the whole game, the Golden Bears iced ball screens for Rice. As a result, Rice didn’t get nearly the kinds of opportunities that led to his 35-point outburst Thursday against Stanford.

In their worst moments, while Rice was being defended that way, the Cougs didn’t know where to look for shots. Posts like Jones and Cluff were getting double-teamed almost immediately after catching it. The Cougs needed somewhere else to find offense.

If it isn’t coming from Rice, WSU isn’t finding it on the perimeter. Wing Jaylen Wells has shown some potential, attacking closeouts and dumping the ball off to teammates at the rim. Andrej Jakimovski, who led his team with 20 points, has displayed a concerted effort to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.

But the truth is, without guard Joseph Yesufu, who is out for the year with a hip injury, Washington State doesn’t have many reliable shot-creators outside of Rice.

“We’re a little light there,” Smith said. “We have to play through our posts, and they were doubling. We got some good things out there. Jaylen makes some plays. Jaylen isn’t necessarily gonna go pick-and-roll and make kick-outs, but he can go get a basket. And Andrej kept us in that game. Made a big 3 in the second half and competed really hard.”

Washington State will return to action Wednesday, hosting Utah. The Utes entered Saturday ranked No. 21 in the NET rankings, which means the Cougars can earn another Quad 1 win with a victory. Then WSU will host Colorado, ranked No. 38, with an opportunity to grab a Quad 2 win.

Four of the teams CBS Sports predicts to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament have a Quad 3 loss on their ledger. Kentucky, Illinois, Memphis and Clemson have pieced together better resumes than WSU in other ways, but the point is a Quad 3 loss does not have to ruin a season.

All is not lost for WSU, but the Cougs can ill afford any more losses like the one at Haas Pavilion.

Pac-12 Network / Youtube