Cougar men’s hoops lose close one to Utah in overtime

Horrifying shooting from deep spoils otherwise great game

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HAILEE SPEIR

WSU guard TJ Bamba dunks the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen reporter

With less than five minutes to go in the second half and the Cougs up only one point, Justin Powell took a three that bounced high off the rim. The arena fell silent, disappointed at yet another miss for the Cougs who were shooting an abysmal 9% for the night from three-point range. 

When it fell straight back down and in, Beasley awoke. Fans stood and cheered, louder than at any point during the rest of the game. For a moment one could forget that attendance was low due to the snowstorm outside. 

Every good play was rewarded with booming applause and every call against the Cougs with boos. This is how a home game should feel.

Then the game was over and Utah had two more points than the Cougs.

HAILEE SPEIR
WSU guard Justin Powell shoots the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

The WSU men’s basketball team (3-4, 0-2 Pac-12) fell to Utah (7-2, 2-0 Pac-12), 67-65 in their second in-conference matchup of the season.

Still, without Jabe Mullins or Andrej Jakimovski, the Cougs once again started Dylan Darling alongside the other typical starters. Adrame Diongue was out with illness.

COLE QUINN

The Cougs opened the game on a 6-0 run, getting four steals in just the first five minutes and getting their points inside off those turnovers. 

Utah stepped it up on defense later in the first and went on an 11-2 run of their own to take the lead with 12 minutes left in the half. The Utes led at halftime, 33-25.

The Cougs still had their struggles offensively, but hustle plays and some great takeaways kept them in the game. WSU made one three-point shot on ten attempts while Utah had shot 4-for-8. 

The disparity was also there from the field, where the Cougs shot 36% to Utah’s 52%. Mouhamed Gueye ended the half with a game-leading 14 points and an assist, accounting for almost two-thirds of WSU’s points.

The second half looked pretty similar to the start. Rough shooting for the Cougs, but the defense was good enough to keep it from hurting them too badly. In less than five minutes Utah committed as many fouls and the Cougs managed to start the half with a 9-0 run to take the lead. 

The foul trouble continued for both teams, with almost a foul per minute for the first 10 minutes of the half helping to keep it close. Unfortunately, Gueye had a number of those and ended up on the bench with four fouls at around the 10-minute mark. Utah’s star center Branden Carlson fouled out with 6:31 left in the game, putting both teams’ backup bigs on the floor for important minutes.

HAILEE SPEIR
WSU forward Mouhamed Gueye drives toward the hoop during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

Gueye came back in and fouled out with 4:35 to go and a 53-49 lead for the Cougs. The final minutes got ugly, as the Cougs seemed to switch from trying to win to trying not to lose. Things got scary with under two minutes to go, as Utah put on a full-court press to try and catch up, getting the game within two with 1:40 to go. 

Up three with 10 seconds left, TJ Bamba catastrophically fouled a driving Marco Anthony for an and-one, giving him a chance to hit a free throw to tie the game. He did. With 6.4 seconds left, the Cougs needed any points to win, but Darling could not score through significant contact at the rim, which sent the WSU and Utah to overtime.

COLE QUINN
WSU guard TJ Bamba drives toward the hoop during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

Overtime was a brawl, as they tend to be. Keba Keita missed the first shot for Utah but grabbed the offensive rebound. Unfortunately for him, he was sharing the paint with the Coug’s defense and Darling came away with the steal. 

The rest of overtime was a blur, with Utah pulling ahead by as much as six. A 3-pointer, by Powell put the Cougs down only three, so when DJ Rodman was fouled on a three the game was in his hands. He made all three and it was a tie game with 30 seconds left. 

Utah got fouled and made two free throws on their end and the Cougs failed to answer.

The first thing to focus on is that this was one of the worst team three-point shooting nights the Cougs could have had. They shot 13% from deep on 30 attempts. If they had made even a pitiful 20% they would have won by multiple possessions. 

The bad shooting meant the defense would have to be phenomenal to keep up and it was. Adjusting for the level of competition this was the best the Cougs have looked on defense this year. Even once Gueye fouled out, they were still locking down Utah on possession after possession.

If literally a single one of the Cougs’ 26 misses from deep went in, this is a win. If they shot their season average, it is a blowout. If the Cougs do not have multiple of the new “point-of-emphasis” flopping technical fouls go against them, they win. 

There are a number of clear areas that just did not work today and with any luck that will not continue. If they can combine an okay offense with this incredible defense they should be formidable later in the year.

COLE QUINN
WSU guard TJ Bamba jumps for a layup during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

The Cougs will hope to shoot better in their return to out-of-conference play against the Northern Kentucky Norse, who are 5-4 with no Power Six matchups yet.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Beasley Coliseum. The game will air on the Pac-12 Network.