Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
The Cougars' ability to relentlessly play hard finally paid off with a victory.
It's no secret that UCLA is a pretty terrible defensive rebounding team; they're last in the Pac-12 in that category by a fairly wide margin. So it made sense that WSU would try and grab a few extra offensive rebounds against the Bruins.
WSU did a lot more than that last night -- they more or less crashed the offensive glass with reckless abandon against UCLA, and it was the catalyst to the victory. The Cougars picked up more than 6 of every 10 rebound chances on their end of the floor, providing a plethora of extra possessions that led to WSU scoring 18 second-chance points -- almost exactly 25 percent of their total.
If you're wondering just how many offensive rebounds that is, the proportion is about twice as much as the Cougs normally grab, and even as bad as UCLA is at securing defensive rebounds, the Bruins normally allow their opponents to secure less than four out of every 10 offensive rebound opportunities.
The interesting thing to me is that while it appeared to be a coaching directive that led to all those boards, Ken Bone said after the game that it was much more organic than that. Via Christian Caple's transcription of Bone's postgame comments:
"I wouldn’t say it was part of the scout we really hit on. We said, 'guys, we’re undersized and we’ve got to be warriors on the boards.' Get a guy like Will (DiIorio) out there and he has influence on other guys and all of a sudden other guys are just scrapping."
Given just how big of an outlier last night's performance on the glass was, I'm pretty surprised that this is how it went down -- I've criticized Bone a lot, but I was all prepared to give him a lot of credit for employing a high-variance strategy that paid off. Then again, Bone has seemed to be pretty risk averse over the years (not a unique characteristic among coaches), so it's not shocking that he'd hedge his bets a little against a team that will run at every opportunity it gets. If strategically crashing the offensive glass with the kind of abandon we saw last night doesn't work, you're likely to get your doors blown off under a barrage of transition buckets.
But it did work. Some of the offensive rebounds early on sort of fell into guys' laps, and the team obviously picked up on the opportunity that was in front of them. It also didn't hurt that so many of WSU's shots came around the rim; already in a good spot to pick up a rebound off a miss, the team flashed the kind of desire for loose balls that you might not expect to see from a team that's so short-handed and riding a nine-game losing streak.
While I might not always agree with Bone's strategies or think much of his ability to teach defensive concepts to his teams, it's undeniable that the Cougars have continued to play hard -- really hard -- every night. Bone's ability to motivate a team whose season was lost a while ago is a coaching skill I probably haven't appreciated enough this year.
And for one night, playing hard really was the difference.