Shorthanded Cougars fall in double overtime thriller

Senior guard Isaac Bonton led Cougars with 25 points in close loss at home



Junior forward Aljaz Kunz drives through Arizona defenders towards the basket on Jan. 2, 2021.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

WSU men’s basketball saw the end of their eight-game winning streak on Saturday, when the Cougars (8-1, 1-1) fell to the Arizona Wildcats (9-1, 3-1) with a score of 82-86 in a double-overtime thriller at Beasley Coliseum.

Senior guard Isaac Bonton led the Cougars with 25 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Although Bonton turned up the dial in the second half, he said there aren’t any moral victories for the team to grasp on to.

The one aspect of the game that both Bonton and head coach Kyle Smith agreed made the largest difference in the loss was the team’s free throw shooting. The team made 19 free throws off a season high of 37 attempts.

“We didn’t control things we could control – free throws,” Bonton said. “We were good enough to win that game, we put ourselves in the position to win, and we just didn’t close.”

The Cougars came into this game considerably short-handed as they had four players miss the game due to COVID-19 protocol. Sophomore guard Ryan Rapp, sophomore forward DJ Rodman, sophomore center Volodymyr Markovetskyy, and redshirt freshman forward Brandton Chatfield all sat out against the Wildcats.

Freshman center Dishon Jackson took over for Markovetskyy in the starting lineup, marking his first ever collegiate start. He finished the game with seven points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes of play. Jackson fouled out of the game with a little under eight minutes left in the second half.

Smith said he was very pleased with Jackson’s performance.

“I thought he was the best player on the floor, to be honest,” Smith said. “It’s just unfortunate he got into foul trouble.”

Arizona came into this game as a premier rebounding squad, ranking among the top teams in the conference. WSU outrebounded the Wildcats early in the game and this momentum on the boards led to a comfortable lead throughout the first half.

The game became exponentially more heated in the final minutes of the first half. The game’s stability took a dip when Jackson made a layup with 1:01 remaining.

Officials took a look at the play to see if Jackson’s shot involved an elbow to the head. After the review, the officials awarded Arizona with a pair of free throws and allowed WSU to keep its points off the layup, a call which Smith visibly disapproved of.

The Wildcats made just one free throw and missed their next shot attempt in the upcoming possession. They drove the lane for a layup with two seconds left on the clock and missed the attempt, but WSU was called for a shooting foul. The call led to an outburst from Smith, which resulted in the referees calling a technical foul.

This gave the Wildcats four straight free throws, all of which they made. WSU received a trip to the line directly after those four consecutive free throws and only made one. This resulted in the Wildcats leading the Cougars for the first time all game. The score was 27-29 at halftime, which marks the first time WSU has trailed at halftime in the past five games.

Smith said he didn’t think this hiccup in the final minute of the first half affected the team too much going into halftime. The team was more focused on realigning for a second half turnaround.

Once the second half started, the Cougars were visibly more disciplined on both sides of the ball, as it only took them two minutes and 15 seconds to regain the lead. Arizona battled back with WSU for a couple of minutes, but when WSU went on a 7-0 run between 16:47 and 15:55 left on the clock, the Cougars were back in control of the game.

Bonton scored a three-pointer with 10:12 left on the clock, which was the beginning of a 10-point onslaught from him that lasted almost four minutes. This, alongside a valiant offensive performance from sophomore guard Noah Williams, helped WSU gain momentum.

“I just picked it up where I felt like I needed to pick up at, we needed a little spark,” Bonton said. “I feel like I have the ability to do that, and I just need to keep being consistent with it.”

Both sides fought relentlessly in the final minutes of regulation, but the clock hit zero, and the game was tied at 70. WSU and Arizona would face-off in overtime for the first time in 14 years.

Early on in the overtime period, it seemed a definite win for the Cougars. The WSU defense held Arizona to just two points in the first four minutes of the five-minute period. However, the Wildcats managed to dig themselves out of the deficit and tie the game at 76.

After a missed game-winning jump shot from Bonton, one overtime was not enough, as the game progressed to double-overtime.

Arizona and WSU danced around in double overtime and went back and forth throughout the period. Due to the fact that WSU centers Jackson and freshman Efe Abogidi were both fouled out at this point, the Cougars’ low post offense and defense were practically nonexistent.

The game was tied at 81 with 40 seconds left, but Arizona drilled a bank-shot three-pointer with 13 seconds left to give the Wildcats the definitive edge to win the game.

Bonton said this game hurts the team for sure, but the team needs to let this loss go as soon as possible in order to progress towards bigger and greater things in conference play.

“You just got to take the good and the bad, build on the good, erase the bad,” Bonton said. “We got to move on, we got a lot of tough teams to play in the conference.”

Senior guard Tony Miller returned to action for the Cougars after missing the last seven games. On just 25 minutes played, he finished the game with four points, all of which came from the free throw line.

Smith said Miller’s status in the upcoming games is dependent on how he feels at the time of the game and that the team will keep a close eye on him for the time being.

The Cougars play their first away game this season against the California Golden Bears at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7  in the Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.