Cougar men’s hoops drops first Pac-12 game at Oregon

Miscues and missed shots marred Cougs on both ends

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

The WSU men’s basketball team (3-3, 0-1 Pac-12) had their first in-conference matchup of the season against the Oregon Ducks (4-4, 1-0 Pac-12) in Eugene on Thursday, falling 74-60 after losing steam 30 minutes in.

Both teams were missing important players. The Cougs, still missing Andrej Jakimovski, were also without Jabe Mullins due to a knee injury. WSU started Dylan Darling in his place. Carlos Rosario made his return, coming off the bench.

The Ducks were without Nate Bittle, Keeshawn Barthelemy and Jermaine Couisnard.

It was ugly from the start as the Cougs had six turnovers in the first half to Oregon’s seven and neither team shot more than 25% from 3-point range.

Oregon struggled with offensive fouls early and committed two in just the first six minutes, but WSU had a similar issue with two rebounding fouls in the same amount of time.

Both teams sped up as the first half went on, but they did it in an uncharacteristic way. After much talk of the Cougs and Ducks taking the first and second most threes in the Pac-12, both teams ended up cold from three and switched to playing more inside. This approach meant feeding Mouhamed Gueye for the Cougs and he ended up finishing the half with 17 points on 7/9 shooting. 

At the end of the first the teams had each scored 20 points in the paint while making only three shots from deep between them. The score was tied at 32.

Going into the second half, the Cougs were running through TJ Bamba and DJ Rodman, with each of them scoring five of the first 12 points for WSU. It was back and forth still as each team attempted and failed to deliver a decisive run.

At around 13 minutes left in the game, Gueye reentered play after sitting a few minutes due to foul trouble. An immediate turnover gave the ball back to the Ducks who capitalized and made it a seven-point lead. 

The full-court press defense of the Ducks was suffocating and Cougs did not manage to score consistently for the rest of the game. 

They lost the turnover battle in the second half with 11 to Oregon’s four. The massive disparity in total shots taken due to those turnovers meant that despite shooting similar percentages the Cougs were not scoring at the pace the Ducks were.

This was a game of miscues and missed shots. The Cougs were often not reaching midcourt until 10 seconds had already passed due to the Ducks stifling defense. When they got there they looked confused and frustrated by the mismatches the Ducks brought, resulting in a number of avoidable turnovers and misses.

As far as positives go, the offense did look solid for the first 27 minutes, albeit with rough shooting from deep. Gueye scored his 19 early and if he had kept it up the Cougs may have had a chance of staying in the game. Bamba was the other Coug in double digits with 14 but on 5-for-13 shooting. 

Once again the Cougs had multiple three-or-more-minute periods that were completely scoreless. It goes without saying that you cannot go scoreless for any significant period in a game as close as this one, especially when you allow the Ducks to get the shots they want on the other end.

Head coach Kyle Smith credited both the Duck’s aggressive gameplan and the young Cougs in new unfamiliar roles with being major factors in the loss.

“They press up every dead ball, every free throw situation, they crank it up in a quick trap like we thought they would,” Smith said. “Some guys in some spots had some rookie mistakes and some of the veterans were out there too long. Their gameplan, worked, it sped us up and we threw it away and threw it to them a couple times. We hung our heads, and if you hand your head on the road you’re gonna go from a two-point game to a nine-point game quickly.”

 In the Jabe Mullins we trust, may the Snoqualmie Sniper’s return raise the Cougs back to the heights we know they can reach.

The next in-conference game will be a return to home against Utah. The Utes just beat No. 4 Arizona. However, in two or three (depending on where you classify Spokane) games on the Palouse the Cougs are undefeated and have won by an average of 30 points. 

This impeccable logic tells us that it is really anyone’s game. 

The Coug’s last matchup with Utah on Jan. 26. ended in a 71-54 victory that included a 22-3 run to pull away in the second half.  

Tip-off is at 1 p.m. Sudnay at Beasley Coliseum. The game will air on the Pac-12 Network.