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WSU Vs. Santa Clara: Cougars Turn In Gutsy Performance To Beat Broncos, 85-79 In OT


"Trap game."

I hate that term more than you can possibly know and feel it gets used far too liberally. Maybe my definition is different from the one everyone else uses, but the way I see it, a trap game features three components:

  1. An overconfident or distracted favorite;
  2. Said favorite is overlooking a better-than-you-think opponent;
  3. Said opponent is fired up to play said overconfident or distracted favorite. 

Of those three, only one was true last night. WSU didn't look overconfident to me; the Cougars just looked rusty. And Santa Clara, while clearly fired up for last night's game, is not a good team. You could make an argument that the Cougs played overconfident for about 10 minutes at the end of the first half, firing up jumpers in an effort to simply shoot themselves back into the game rather than sticking to the game plan, but you'll never convince me that this team was simply looking ahead to the Islands. 

I mentioned in my Santa Clara preview that I expected the Cougs to win going away, barring some kind of crazy bad shooting night. Well, as that Chris Berman would say, that's why you play the game. Seriously, who could have anticipated this combination of factors?

  • The refs called an insanely tight game, whistling 52(!) personal fouls. Some of that was fouling at the end of regulation and OT, but only about four or five. Consider that Santa Clara and WSU have combined to average 40 fouls.
  • Each team had a FT rate of over 60(!). For comparison, the Cougs' FTR against this year was under 35 before last night, and Santa Clara's was 46.8. (The Cougs' next-highest FTR game was 43.8 against Gonzaga.)
  • Santa Clara made its first 30 free throws. THIRTY! 
  • The Cougs had their second-worst shooting game of the season, 46.7 eFG%, against a team that had been allowing 51.3%. And that overall number was much lower throughout most of the game until Klay Thompson hit the game-tying 3 and subsequently hit another one in OT.

That's not a trap. That's a fluke.

Santa Clara is a very good free throw shooting team, but you know what "very good" is? Seventy-two percent. That might not sound all that high, but that makes them among the top 20 percent in the country at shooting free throws. If they merely shoot their average in those first 30, they hit 22 of them and the Cougs theoretically win the game by a comfortable margin. 

Instead, we got a perfect storm of crazy, fluky events that propelled the Broncos to a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to play and nearly sent the Cougs to their second loss of the season. But WSU did what good teams do, which is figure out a way to win. The Cougs made a concerted effort to take advantage of the officiating and get to the basket, they hit their free throws, they played stout defense in the last couple of minutes and finally got a couple of big shots from Klay.  

That's what good teams do. On to the awards.

Klay Thompson Player Of The Game: Klay Thompson -- 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals. No he didn't have a great shooting night (5-of-16), but a quick and dirty measure of efficiency is scoring more points than shots taken. Thompson bullied his way to the rim and was the difference in the game.

Right Hand Man: I'll go with DeAngelo Casto -- 15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals. Yes, he played terribly for the first three quarters of the game. Yes, the two fouls that sent him to the bench were absolutely the stupidest things you'll ever see on a basketball court. But when it was money time -- right at the end of regulation and in the opening minutes of OT -- he was huge.

Unsung Hero: Marcus Capers -- 14 points, 7 rebounds (all defensive), 1 block, 2 monster dunks. We might just have to rename this award for him.

Play Of The Game: Thompson buries a 3 with 14 seconds to play to tie it up and eventually send the game to overtime.

It Was Over When: Regression took over and Kevin Foster missed one of his three free throw attempts to leave the Cougars with a four-point lead with 13 seconds to go.

Stat Of The Game: Those free throw rates. When the Cougs finally decided they wanted to take advantage, the game was irreversibly changed. Boy howdy, if I never see those officials again, it will be too soon. (What's that you say? All three work Pac-10 games? Sigh ...)