Once is a fluke, twice is a trend, three times is a habit.
That's how the old saying goes, anyway. And after watching the Cougs melt down in the second half for the third consecutive game, it's hard not to start to wonder if this team that we all thought showed so much promise is starting to come apart at the seams a little bit.
Before getting too far into whether this is some kind of developing habit for this team, I want to take a quick look back at last night's game. Here's a look at the Four Factors from last night's game, broken out by half:
(What are the Four Factors and how are they calculated?)
Pretty obvious why this game went south. We can complain about the offense all we want*, but poor defense was the main culprit. The Cougs repeatedly lost Tyler Honeycutt at the beginning of the half, then allowed Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith to completely take over on the glass. That absurd eFG% for the Bruins was built almost entirely on poor 2-point defense, which also showed up in that horrible free throw rate. (Some of that FTR was built on intentionally fouling at the end, but not all of it.)
*To be honest, I actually won't complain much about the second-half offense. It's clear the game plan was to attack the rim; imagine how different that efficiency would look if some of those looks had dropped or had been converted into foul shots. It's not like we were rumbling in out of control. We just didn't convert. Sometimes that happens.
Unfortunately, poor second-half performances are all to familiar to us after last year, so there's a small part of me that wants to completely overreact and declare that this is last year all over again and that we're doomed to the same disappointing conference schedule.
But then there's the rational part of me -- the part that looks at Baylor, Butler and UCLA as not just three good opponents, but three good opponents who are exceptionally tough matchups for our personnel. Baylor has that long front line, Butler is incredibly disciplined and UCLA is just huge up under the basket when Smith is in the game. Of all three of those second halves, only Butler's really surprised me -- a disciplined team still has to make shots, and the Bulldogs just didn't miss.
Still, I'm not willing to chalk it all up to matchups. In all three games, our opponents have appeared to be the hungrier, scrappier team after the break. I don't measure this based on demeanor or flailing around; mostly, I just see that we've been getting beat to loose balls, 50/50 rebounds seem to find their way into the opponents' hands, and the other team's defense looks to be displaying a higher level of energy than our offense.
All three haven't been true in every game, but it's been some combination of that in the second half of all three contests. And when you combine that with increased shot making by the opponent and stagnant and inefficient offense by us, you've got a real problem on your hands.
Which is why I'm not inclined to panic, even after three consecutive games. The rational part of me usually wins out, and it is in this instance. These are three teams rated 15, 28 and 56 by Pomeroy who possess challenging attributes for WSU on one end of the floor or the other. If this crap starts happening against Oregon, Stanford or OSU, I'll panic. But until then, I'll just keep watching to see how this team adjusts to the changing strategies of their opponents.