Wyat Taylor/The Daily Evergreen In the first meeting between the Huskies and Cougars since the football season, Cougar men’s basketball fell in a heart-breaking fashion 68-63 to their in-state foes Saturday in Beasley Coliseum.
The game seemed destined to play out like the Apple Cup, as the Cougars overcame a 17-point deficit in the first half to take the lead late in the second half.
However this time with a game in the balance, the Huskies didn’t miss their shot to seal the win as freshman guard Andrew Andrews shot a pair of stone-faced free throws to ice the game with only three seconds remaining.
The Cougars did not begin their Pac-12 Conference schedule as hoped, taking more than five minutes to put a single point on the board while the Huskies jumped out to a 21-4 lead midway through the first half.
Redshirt sophomore guard Royce Woolridge finally broke the scoring drought at the 14:50 mark in the first half, but the team continued to struggle, shooting only 27.6 percent from the field in the period.
“We just didn’t look very in-sync with what we were trying to execute,” Head Coach Ken Bone said after the game. “I think that led in to a few possessions where we had tough shots.”
One of the key factors in keeping the Cougars out of sync was the containment of senior forward Brock Motum, the team’s leading scorer. Outmatched by UW’s 7-foot center, AzizN’Diaye down low, Motum was unable to find the ball near the hoop — he finished the first half with only four points and had 15 for the night.
“They did a great job of just denying him the ball,” Bone said. “We tried throwing over the top, we tried sealing, we tried doing a few other things that we’re going to have to improve on prior to playing them again.”
Motum and the resilient Cougar squad regained composure in the second half, eventually grabbing the team’s first lead of the game with 7:21 to play. The comeback seemed fated to end in similar fashion as the Apple Cup, as a raucous crowd erupted in Beasley Coliseum following the 17-point turnaround.
This time, however, the Huskies would not let up. Husky senior guard Scott Suggs buried a pair of contested jump shots, followed by a breakaway layup that would put the Huskies up for good.
Saturday’s loss was the third of the season decided in the final minute — the others coming against Pepperdine and Gonzaga. Bone said that inability to execute in key moments is something the team will have to improve upon.
“A lot of times, that’s on me as a coach,” he said. “A lot of times it’s on who’s got the ball in their hands, making good decisions down the stretch.”
A frustrated Motum echoed the coach’s sentiments, saying the team needs to remain focused throughout the game in order to avoid such lapses.
“Although it’s one game, we need to form our identity as a tough team and one that starts and finishes games — not just one that plays in the middle and plays in the end,” he said. “It’s one game, we’ll play them again in Seattle and we’ll get ‘em back then.”
“(Loses) all hurt. If you lose, they hurt,” Bone said. “We’ve got to turn the page and get on to the next game.”
Saturday’s loss wrapped up a string of nine consecutive home matches for the Cougars, who finished 7-2 in that stretch. While students may have been on break, the Cougars continued to work, playing two games over the three-week break, recording wins in both.
The team started the break on a high note with a 65-54 win over the Buffalo Bulls in the team’s annual Cougar Hardwood Classic game in Seattle. Though the Bulls kept fans in Seattle anxious throughout by keeping pace with the Cougars, WSU prevailed in the end, securing an undefeated 8-0 record in the annual contest.
While the Bulls kept pace with the Cougars, the Bengals of Idaho State never had a chance in WSU’s second game over break. The game, held in Kennewick, was never in doubt as the Cougars blew out the Bengals 74-39. The team jumped out to a big lead early thanks to a slew of scoring from seniors Mike Ladd and Motum, who finished with 17 points apiece.
The team will travel south to California for a set of games beginning with Stanford on Wednesday.