So much for the second half swoon.
Down nine at the half - and without suspended point guard Reggie Moore - the Cougars charged back in the second half to earn a critical road win at Stanford.
This was the type win the Cougars had come close to getting twice - at USC and at Cal on Thursday. Both times, however, they fell short, and the Cougs were in danger of dropping all four of their road games in the first half of the conference slate.
How did they avoid that fate? I'd credit the defense. The Cougs held the Cardinal to a
fairly average 49.2 eFG% well below average 41.0 eFG%, and got the key stops they needed down the stretch. Stanford had a chance to tie on a three at the buzzer (Ken Bone doesn't like to foul up three. I do, but let's not get into that argument right now) but it clanked off the rim and the Cougs came away with their third Pac-10 win in four games.
WSU played very even with Stanford, for the most part - they held a slight edge in shooting, turnover rate and free throw rate... but were beat soundly by the Cardinal on the boards. The Cardinal have a solid, attacking defense, but WSU executed the 2-3 zone well throughout the game. The result was seven steals, four blocks, and a mostly frustrated Stanford offense. The Cougars flipped the script of last year's loss in Palo Alto: opening the second half on a 10-1 run over the first 4:19 and never fading away down the strech.
I can't understate how big a win this is for WSU. With the conference's two best teams coming to town in the next two weeks, it was critical for the team's tournament chances to earn a split in the Bay. They did, and now it's on to the next challenge.
Klay Thompson Player of the Game Award: Klay Thompson. 21 points on 9 of 20 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal. Just another day at the office.
Right Hand Man: Faisal Aden. Let's give Aden some credit here. He kept the Cougar offense afloat early on by attacking the lane (yay) and helped keep the 2-3 zone working by grabbing a few steals. We all know he shoots too much, but I think the more specific issue is he shoots too many threes. Aden made 7 of 12 shots inside the arc tonight; so I'm thinking Bone has his game trending in the right direction. Throw in 2 offensive rebounds and only 2 turnovers in 36 minutes, and Aden played a solid game. If he had just hit his perimeter shots like he normally does, he'd be player of the game and the Cougs would have run away with this one late.
Unsung Hero: Marcus Capers. Couldn't he almost always win this award? Did a great job running point in Reggie's absence; only one turnover and six points.
Play of the Game: I really liked Casto's and-one with 3:01 remaining to put the Cougs up four and allow them to have the edge down the stretch.
Stat of the Game: Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson had 41 of WSU's 61 points. I think it's pretty obvious where the offense goes with Reggie Moore is on the bench. Luckily, tonight, it worked. In the future this team needs more balance.