Cougs comeback falls short against Oregon

From down 19 the Cougs almost pulled it back



WSU guard DJ Rodman sets up to stop Oregon guard Rivaldo Soares during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Oregon, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

The dream had to end at some point. While it would have been nice to advance in the tournament this loss was about as good a game as a loss can be.

WSU men’s basketball (17-16, 11-9 Pac-12) lost in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament to Oregon (19-13, 12-8 Pac-12) by a score of 75-70 March 9.

According to the book “Scorecasting” by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, fans feel better when their team just falls short of a big comeback than when they play close until the end and give up the final basket. This game is a perfect example of that.

The first half was pretty awful for the Cougs and with five minutes until halftime, the Oregon lead was 19 points. Mouhamed Gueye had only 1 point and only a few other Cougs had managed more than that. The Cougs looked to rest some players for the second half, subbing in Carlos Rosario and Adrame Diongue, both of whom were seldom seen during the win streak.

Suddenly, the team had life again. Within just those five minutes, the Cougs clawed from down 19 to down 8 at halftime. While usually down 8 seems like a bad situation, considering the previous lead deficit, it was a pretty big deal.

Rosario had only 3 points and a rebound but the energy he brought was huge and everyone around him was firing on all cylinders.

Diongue was still noticeably less aggressive, having only just returned from a long injury, but he was still invaluable as an agile big to shore up the team’s interior defense.

This five-minute period was easily the highlight of the game, unfortunately. Justin Powell and Gueye both went to the locker room and there was concern that they might have been injured, but they came out to start the second half. In that second period, the starters managed to see more success than they had in the first half and Oregon’s lead only really shrunk.

It got so close that WSU took the lead with nine minutes remaining and it was back and forth until it was tied at 70 with three minutes remaining. Unfortunately, this was where all the luck fell apart and the Cougs had their final fateful scoring drought.

“Decent effort but crappy last few minutes” my dad texted me at the end of the game, having tuned in during the 70-point knot. “I never saw them score.”

Comebacks are fun. Sometimes though, they take everything you have. That seems to be what happened here. As everything went right for 22 minutes for the Cougs, they pulled it to a tie late. The other shoe had to drop eventually and it happened when Oregon managed a 5-0 run to close the game.

TJ Bamba finished with 19 points, leading all scorers. Gueye had 14 points but only three rebounds, as Oregon’s N’Faly Dante gave him trouble all game. Despite leaving to the locker room for a moment in the first half, Powell ended up with 15 points and seven rebounds which made this one of his better games of the season.

A newly-toothed Andrej Jakimovski finished with 10 points, three boards and three assists. DJ Rodman produced very similar stats with 9 points, four rebounds and three assists.

These guys all played well, but to beat Oregon it was going to take multiple phenomenal games and the Cougs, unfortunately, did not manage any of those.

The season had to end eventually. The winning streak is still historic and the performances that made it happen are still legendary. By climbing over .500 the Cougs cemented themselves a spot in their second straight NIT tournament. Unfortunately, an untimely injury to Gueye meant the Cougs were eliminated in the first round by Eastern Washington University.