So much for the second half swoon.
Washington State took a 13 point lead into the half, and then ran away with a 39 point second half to defeat Montana State, 70-51.
Taylor Rochestie looked more like the Taylor Rochestie we know and love. He was smart with passing the ball, while making good decisions about when to fly past the defender and get to the rim. He dished a team-high six assists, and shot 4 of 7 for eleven points on the night. He even had two trips into the lane where he drew contact and got to the line.
WSU lit it up on offense: 58.3% shooting for the game and 50% shooting from three. That's good for a 64.6 eFG%. It's hard to lose to anyone when you're shooting the ball that well. Daven Harmeling emerged as the potential third scorer, draining four of five threes en route to a 13 point night. Klay Thompson hit two of his four threes on the way to leading all Cougars with 14.
Tony got a chance tonight to experiment with the young guys and give them some critical minutes. Casto, Capers and Harthun all saw 9+ minutes of playing time and looked pretty comfortable within the offense. Tony told FSN after the game that he's still looking for that 8th or 9th guy in the rotation that can provide a spark for the team. My vote goes to Harthun; he seems to have the quickness to defend the guard position and a pretty nice stroke from the outside. A shot that has been underutilized so far this season.
The Cougars dominated down low. Baynes: 9 points, 5 of 7 free throws and 2 of 4 from the floor. Casto was 4 of 4, had two offensive rebounds and 2 excellent blocks. Caleb Forrest continues to make the case for more playing time with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting with 5 rebounds. The bigs looked awfully good.
Despite looking like a small crowd on TV, attendance for the game was listed at 7,848. Not a bad haul for a Big Sky conference opponent on a weekend where no student would dare leave Pullman (Finals Week).
WSU outrebounded the Bobcats 34-18, including 6-3 on the offensive glass.
Fabian Boeke drained his first bucket as a Cougar, the final three of the game.
The most important positive is that the Cougs came back tonight, and proved they belong in the win column. Let's put things in perspective: this team has 2 losses to two of the top 4 teams in the country, another loss to a Top 25 team, and that's it. Don't panic: this is still a good ball club. But we have to prove we can beat a formidable opponent. All of a sudden I have my calendar circled for the LSU game.
Incredibly, this game should have been more of a blowout than it was. WSU just shot the lights out, and it overshadowed some defensive problems. It's hard to gameplan for a guy buried on the bench, but Danny Piepoli really hurt us tonight (14 points with 4 of 8 from behind the arc).
One shooter getting hot is OK. But the bigger breakdown was letting Montana State have their way in the lane, especially at the start of the second half. Bobcat guard Erik Rush had as many free throw attempts (12) as the entire Cougar team had. That's not good at all. For holding an opponent to 32.7% shooting, WSU gave up a surprising amount of points in this one. Free throw rate was the difference.
Tony said after the game this is still a "work in progress". And he's right. This is an incredibly young team, but a talented one, and will really have to play well to earn a tournament bid. We really won't find out where this team stands until Pac-10 play. But, for now, enjoy wins like these. You can't take a win over Montana State, or Idaho State, or Canisius, or anyone for granted these days. Just ask Colorado and Oregon State, who lost to the team we handled easily tonight.
Player of the Game: Klay Thompson. May have reclaimed his "leading scorer" title with 14 points (6 of 8 shooting, 2 of 4 from three), and chipped in six rebounds. Can you imagine how good this kid is going to be by the time he's a senior?
Play of the Game: Tougher choice here, but I'm going with the highlight reel Marcus Capers to Caleb Forrest fast break dunk late in the second half. Not a bad exclamation point at all.
Bonus scary thought of the night: How on Earth are we going to replace Aron Baynes next year?