Chalk this one up as a learning experience.
It's hard to find the words to describe this game, even hours after it ended. This was a game defined early by Ken Bone's benching of Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto, and defined late by the Cougars falling apart against Arizona State's stout defense.
I didn't realize the last time we had an odd starting lineup (first game of the Great Alaska Shootout) was also due to disciplinary reasons. So this is far from unprecedented. However, this time it was much more damaging, as the Cougars weren't playing Alaska-Anchorage, and the moves led Ken Bone to gradually empty his bench throughout the game.
Oddly enough the Cougars jumped out to a hot start - a 7-1 run - but between a bad stretch of possessions (five missed shots, four turnovers - hat tip to Grippi for that stat) - and Klay Thompson's second foul, the Cougs surrendered a 16-0 run before making the game halfway respectable prior to halftime. If only the clear goaltend by Ty Abbott had been called when the Cougars were down 31-25, the game might have had more life in the second half. It wasn't, and it didn't.
I understand the decision to bench the players - Capers and Watson were late for the morning walk-through, and Casto was late for the bus to the area. What I don't understand were the odd rotations throughout the game, and Bone's decision to give key minutes to players whom we haven't seen in months (or at least we haven't seen in meaningful situations, anyway). Our usual starters did play the majority of the minutes, but just look at the distribution:
Moore - 32
Klay - 30
Capers - 28
Koprivica - 25
Thames - 24
Casto - 23
Then it gets wild....
Harthun - 9
Bjornstad - 7
Watson - 6
Enquist - 4
Lodwick - 4
Motum - 4
Allen - 4
In fact, every Cougar on scholarship played except for Anthony Brown (which makes the decision to burn his redshirt even more perplexing than it already was). No role player got in rhythm, and no role player made an impact. The Cougs performed surprisingly well in the first four minutes with Lodwick (not so surprising) and Enquist (pleasantly surprising - including winning the opening tip). They never played again. In that case, why not just start Koprivica (who has earned a start or two with his play this year)? Why not start Bjornstad if he was the guy Bone wanted to play at the five for the majority of the first half? It makes my head spin.
Bone threw everyone and the kitchen sink at ASU, at it never worked, and rarely were all five of our regulars out on the floor at the same time.
Having said that, everyone - late or not - had a fair shot at playing time in the second half and the Cougs still fell apart. It was surprisingly reminiscent of what WSU used to do to opponents in the Bennett era. It's not a fluke when your team shoots this poorly against a team that has defended well all season. This was ASU putting on a defensive clinic against one of the better offenses in college basketball. The Cougs' eFG% was a horrific 31.6. They got dismantled by a team that values preventing transition buckets, and takes jump shots over free throws. Sound familiar? It's the formula the Cougars had used for years to dismantle teams. This was eerily similar to our first blowout win over the Huskies (only the Huskies actually played their first string most of the game).
This was a tough way for the Cougars to learn an important lesson. The lesson being that a team can't just float through the Pac-10 season. We had a big win on Friday night. Great. Problem is there are still 14 more conference games to go, and our margin for error already got cut thanks to one of the all-time worst calls in WSU history (think about it - we could be 3-1 right now instead of 2-2). This team has bounced back every time they've been hit hard. Whether it was the rough Gonzaga/K-State stretch or the Oregon game, WSU has responded to every challenge thrown at them this season. Problem is, when you're a young team, eventually your deficiencies will catch up to you. The Cougars have to work twice as hard to make sure that doesn't happen.
If you're looking for a pick-me-up, there's this: the Arizona team we just beat ran over the Huskies by 17 today. In the big picture, the Cougs are doing just fine. But it's up to them to make sure today was just a bump in the road, and not the start of a trend.
Player of the Game: Marcus Capers. Holy cow, there's horrible shooting up and down the box score. Klay 3 for 11. Reggie 2 for 10. X went 2 for 8. Capers was at least slightly decent, going 3 for 9 with 8 points, 3 offensive boards and a block.
Unsung Hero: John Allen. Allen was the only person with 2 or more shot attempts to make over 50% of them. He was 2 for 2. Allen, a walk-on, has done an exceptionally good job of earning minutes this season, even though he lacks height and plays on a guard-heavy team. I'm not saying he's going to be superstar in a couple years, but I do think it speaks a lot to his character that he plays some solid, occasional minutes for this team. And often he plays better out there than some of the guys on scholarship.
Play of the Game: I forget when or how it happened, but Marcus Capers threw down a pretty sick dunk in this game off a miss by DeAngelo Casto. I helped alleviate the pain of the Sun Devils' first half run.
It was over when... Klay Thompson turned the ball over to former Cougar recruit Ty Abbott, whose lay-in made it 41-27 with just over 16 minutes to play. The Cougs never really showed signs of life after that.
Stat of the Game: 13 players played four or more minutes.
Oh, and Go Beavers tonight.