There's a reason I (usually) only use the final score as the title on my game recaps. Not because I'm boring, or can't think of a catchy title that would summarize the game in a few snappy words.
It's because it is what it is.
All that really matters in the end is the final score. It didn't matter if the Zags went on their run in the first five minutes or the last five. We knew they were too good a team not to have a stretch with momentum on their side. It was a matter of how we responded. Tonight, we didn't. In that event, it doesn't matter what the score was 10, 20 or even 30 minutes in. All that matters is the result.
What you saw tonight was a young team falling apart on the road against a veteran team. Of course the Zags are young at a couple spots, but we're young at every spot, minus Nikola Koprivica.
Ultimately, I think what really hurts about this loss is the brief glimpse of what this team could become. With Reggie Moore on the bench in foul trouble, and Klay not up to living up to his usual scoring prowess, this team dominated Gonzaga in the first half. Thames, Koprivica and Harthun played well off the bench. Casto and Lodwick controlled the interior. Scoring was balanced. Shots were in rhythm. The defense was taking away the three-point shot, for the most part.
But then we saw the ugly head of what this team really is, or at least has been up to this point. Horrific three-point defense. Rebounding issues. A lack of a reliable scorer outside of Klay and Reggie Moore. We also saw our inconsistencies: free throw shooting, turnovers and forced shots all in the final ten minutes. An inability to match the Zags' aggressiveness and ability to get to the foul line. 8 turnovers on 10 possessions is unacceptable; one of many lessons to be learned from this game. This was no longer a team hungry for an upset; it was a team trying to hang on. We did against Eastern because we were the better team; we didn't against Gonzaga because we aren't.
Still, try to see this for the whole picture, not the end of the second half. This was a five point loss to a great team, who is nearly unbeatable on their home floor (I know we debunked the Kennel myth a little bit earlier, but the fact is their dominance is due to the fact that so often they ARE the better team). And the Zags don't easily get upset. It hurts now, but next year when this team closes out a game just like this you can be thankful they had this kind of experience.
It is what it is. K-State next.
Player of the Game: DeAngelo Casto. 10 points, 10 boards, on 50% shooting with 3 blocks and 3 steals.
[I should also give some well-deserved respect to the Zags' Steven Gray, who did a phenomenal job defensively on Klay Thompson, especially late in the game.]
Unsung Hero: Xavier Thames. Did most of his damage in the first half, but still had 11 points on 3/5 shooting (including 3/3 from three-point range), 3 rebounds and an assist.
Play of the Game: I have to go with the Casto block that brought Robert Sacre back to the floor. Takes us back to the first half. Simpler, happier times.
It was over when... the Cougs failed to score on a field goal for an almost ten minute stretch late in the second half. Thanks to free throws we were able to score six more points in that stretch, but that obviously was not going to be enough. Ugh. I thought the scoring droughts were supposed to move to Virginia along with Tony.
Stat of the Game: I've already mentioned the scoring drought, so let's go with the Cougars missing 8 out of 20 free throw attempts - the secret killer for WSU in this game. Make just half of those misses and, well...