On the postgame radio show with Bud Nameck, Tony Bennett talked about motivating his players to "get a gap".
What's a gap? Three defensive stops in a row. Throwing the opponent's offense out of rhythm, and giving WSU the opportunity to score unanswered on the other end.
Tonight, Canisius (prounounced Can-EE-shus) didn't just fall into the gap - they fell into a chasm.
The Cougars used a 24-0 run - with plenty of gaps in between - to set up a blowout of the Golden Griffins, 67-41.
It's the Cougars fourth win of the season, all decided by 21 points or more.
Canisius came out of the gate a worthy adversary for the Cougs. For the first five minutes, the Griffs played more like a football team than a basketball team. The physical presence of Chris Gadley and the Canisius starting five caused the Cougs problems en route to a 9-7 deficit.
That's when the Cougars turned on the gas defensively. Chris Gadley was as advertised - a huge, athletic center who just happens to be a stifling 320 pounds. But the Cougars limited him by doubling him in the post and allowing him to shoot the occasional perimeter shot. Gadley was 5 of 14 from the field, but 2 of 4 from distance. Meaning he was only 3 of 10 from inside the arc. The rest of Canisius fell cold in the process, finishing with only a 30.8% mark from the field, and 33.3% from three-point range. WSU forced 18 turnovers.
As impressive as the first half was defensively for WSU, the second half was littered with unusual defensive lapses and turnovers. Consider this: Taylor Rochestie finished the game with four turnovers. Four tunrovers equalling his season total prior to the game. His assist to turnover ration was 3:4. The three games before tonight he went 6:0, 7:3, and 10:1, respectively. Rochestie is a victim of his own success. He's so incredibly efficient at running the point that when he has an off night with turnovers it stands out like sore thumb.
Don't read much into it. Taylor is still our CougCenter Player of the Game, for a 17 point offensive effort (7 for 12, 3 steals, 3 assists and 2 rebounds), and good on-ball defense throughout. He's still Taylor Rochestie.
Back to the strange second half. The Cougars only "won" the half 28-26, versus the 39-15 differential in the first. Canisius played better, yes, but it was more a case of the Cougars frustrating themselves. DeAngelo Casto has developed a bad habit of leaving his man after a screen (in other words, not switching back to his original man when he should) - something that led to a couple of easy, open jumpers for the Griffins. Three point shooting was a struggle as well. The Cougs as a team were 6 for 23 (26.1%). Thompson was 2 for 7, Rochestie 2 for 6, Koprivica 0 for 3 (regression to the mean).
Abe Lodwick, my annointed three-point shooter of the future, went 0 for 4. I have no idea why he's struggling so much, especially after the 3/3 performance against LCSC. His threes are open - they just aren't dropping (he's 1 for 12 (!) this season). I still think he'll come around, and chalk these early numbers up to nothing more than small sample size. He's actually been better inside the arc, going 4 for 7 so far.
Another encouraging sign: rebounding. The Cougs blew up the Griffs on the boards, by a final tally of 41 to 23. They dominated the offensive glass 17 to 5. Casto, Baynes, Forrest, Lodwick, Thompson - everyone got into the act. There was one possession where the Cougars scored on their fourth opportunity. Sure, the shooting struggles made it happen, but it was a backbreaker for Canisius. Playing hard in the second half couldn't save the Griffs in this one.
CougCenter Play of the Game: Klay Thompson drives for a pretty layup over a Canisius defender, earning a bucket and a trip to the foul line.
In other news:
Harthun suspended: Mike Harthun sat out the game tonight, and will not be making the trip to New Jersey this weekend. It is part of a temporary suspension for a "violation of team rules" that Tony will not elaborate on.
I'm not sure what to make of this, although certainly it's disheartening to see any player draw a suspension. Still, hearing the news after the game reminded me of a play near the end of the first half when Canisius' Greg Logins viciously fouled DeAngelo Casto, the only technical foul of the evening. I cannot even remember the last time a Cougar player did something that far out of line. Nor can I remember a WSU player showboating or taunting an opponent, save for a couple glares from Aron Baynes. Discipline is the reason for that, and Tony has to make sure he runs a tight ship so players can be successful in the classroom and on the basketball court. Let's hope Harthun puts this behind him, and that it doesn't happen again. Whatever it was.
Attendance survives the Thanksgiving break: A healthy crowd of 6,091 tonight, due in part to the opening of the student section as general admission to the public. Still, it wasn't hard to get premium seating if you came early enough. That will change when Baylor and Gonzaga come to town.
Around the Pac-10: UW fell short in a two-point loss to Florida, Oregon was blown out by #1 North Carolina, and Arizona escaped with a win at home neutral-site win against Santa Clara.