Cougs win one, lose one, gain hope

WSU men’s basketball leads for 38 minutes, loses to UCLA; beats USC


Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services

TJ Bamba angles toward the basket in an NCAA basketball game between USC and WSU in Pullman, Jan. 1

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU men’s basketball (6-9, 1-3 Pac-12) played both Los Angeles teams — USC and UCLA — over the weekend.

The first of these was No. 11 UCLA (13-2, 4-0 Pac-12). The second ranked matchup for the Cougs this year went much like the first one. The Cougs kept it close much longer than expected, but could not get it done at the end. This time around was especially rough, as the Cougs were up by 9 points with 7:23 left in the game and did not hit a field goal for the rest of the game.

This might be the perfect example of the Cougar offense’s problem. Typically, the struggles last a few minutes, four or five at most, and it makes it hard to win with those cold streaks. More than seven minutes of absolutely stagnant offense, hardly even getting shots up, and turning it over at the most inopportune times were truly unprecedented.

Still, the WSU defense held up decently, and the final score was only 67-66. DJ Rodman got a 3-pointer off that would have been the game-winner, but it was not in the cards for the Cougs.

Despite the loss and the horrendous play down the stretch, 33 minutes of good basketball bodes somewhat well. The Cougs have made for tough games for multiple ranked teams now. Bad teams do not usually do that.

The USC (11-4, 3-1 Pac-12) game went much better than any other game this season when you consider the strength of the opponent. At the final buzzer, the Cougs led by 10, with the final score being 81-71. For most of the game, they were up about that much, as dominant 3-point shooting and phenomenal defense managed to beat a great USC team.

The Cougs shot 48.3% from beyond the arc and held the Trojans to just 16.7% While WSU was out-rebounded, they led every other counting stat including a 14-3 3-point advantage.

There is something to be said about this potentially being a fluke game. The Cougs have not been a great 3-point shooting team this year despite taking a high volume of them.

The volume of threes the Cougs made could be a fluke but shooting threes at the volume head coach Kyle Smith wants them to take those shots, will usually result in a win.

However, there is also a chance this is a real turnaround for the Cougs. Things have basically only gone bad for this team so far this year: every close game has had shots that just did not go down, and most of the wider losses have come with foul trouble to starters or injury issues with important players.

If things go Wazzu’s way, the Cougs can be a good team, great even.

The Cougs will see if fate swings their way against Arizona State at 8 p.m. Thursday at Desert Financial Arena. Fans can watch on the Pac-12 Network.