Late comeback not enough as Cougars lose to Utes

WSU narrowed Utah’s led to four points with one minute left



Sophomore forward Jeff Pollard goes up for a shot over Utah’s senior forward Tyler Rawson Saturday in Beasley Coliseum.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

A late three-point shooting surge from WSU men’s basketball made for a formidable comeback effort against University of Utah on Saturday, but it was not enough as WSU fell 76-70.

“The game is not over until that horn goes off,” Head Coach Ernie Kent said. “I’ve been in too many of these games and too many things can happen in a game. I don’t think they are down or that, I think they know that they’re starting to come now because we’ve put a few wrinkles in and changed some things and we’re starting to get some production from those guys off the bench.”

Seeing this game go down to the final minute after WSU trailed by as many as 20 points would have been difficult, but something Kent has demanded from his team is more mental toughness to close out games. Restricted by a poor shooting performance in the first 15 minutes of the game, the growth of the Cougars mental toughness was on display.

About five minutes before halftime, WSU trailed 33-13 when junior forward Robert Franks hit a pair of free throws followed by a three-pointer. The Cougars flipped the switch and Franks would lead his team on a 15-5 run to close out the half and bring the Cougars within 10.

For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Cougars traded buckets with the Utes but never saw the deficit get to single digits. As the play clock dipped below 10 minutes, sophomore guard Malachi Flynn and senior guard Steven Shpreyregin hit back-to-back threes to bring the deficit to nine.

On the ensuing play, redshirt freshman forward Arinze Chidom poked the ball loose from Utah senior guard Justin Bibbins but was called for a foul. Chidom spiked the ball in frustration and was then called for a technical foul, giving the Utes two additional free throws.

The final opportunity for the Cougars came in the final minute. WSU trailed by just four points, but it was spoiled when a turnover by Flynn and resulted in an acrobatic bucket from Bibbins for the final field goal of his 24-point night. WSU was down by six points with less than a minute to go and was forced to foul, but nothing would come of it.

Although WSU drained 10 second half three-pointers, none of them came from sophomore guard Carter Skaggs. In the past two games he has gone 0-12 from beyond the three-point line.

“He has definitely hit a wall right now,” Kent said. “Remember, Malachi hit it last year and he just ran out of gas down the stretch. He couldn’t even will himself, as much as he wanted to, to do anything. Well Carter is a bigger, stronger-bodied kid. He should be able to get through this slump, push through it and get moving again. But boy, we could have used his jump shot.”

The Cougars will head to Northern California for a pair of games against University of California, Berkley on Thursday and Stanford University on Saturday.