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WSU Vs. UCLA Recap: Cougs Put Up A Fight, Fall Short In The End

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Over 20 minutes, a team can survive playing on an emotional high. In the first half on Saturday, we saw just that as the Washington State Cougars came barreling out of the gate, holding the UCLA Bruins to just 19 first half points. The end result was a 13 point lead and a collection of fans stunned at the team's position.

But a college basketball game isn't 20 minutes, unfortunately, and it takes two halves to bring home a win. Over the second 20, UCLA's talent began to prevail, yet the Cougs still forced overtime. Over a long enough period of time, that talent will win out, especially when the gap is as great as it was yesterday.

Consider that Ben Loewen and Will DiIorio combined to play what almost amounts to a full game between the two of them -- Loewen, 21 minutes; DiIorio 18. Consider Marcus Capers, DeAngelo Casto, Abe Lodwick and Faisal Aden each played over 30 minutes, with Brock Motum knocking on the door. It was a seven man rotation of rag-tags going toe-to-toe with UCLA's All-Americans.

And I'm damn proud of each and every one of them.

I was as disappointed as anyone after the loss. I had to walk away to clear my head because of the frustration. The fact we were in the position to be emotionally invested in the game is a feat in itself. Nobody expected the Cougs to hold their own against UCLA, yet there they were.

And how did they do it? Besides the effort from the seven that saw floor time, this was the best coaching performance I've seen from anyone, at any level, in a long time. Ken Bone did a few things to throw UCLA off, and they all worked to perfection.

  • Trap the wings and post. On Friday, I felt Bone needed to find some way to pressure out of the zone. He did so by trapping every time the ball hit the wings or the low post. It left UCLA fewer options and floor space to work with.
  • Clog the high post. In a zone, The high post is the go-to spot to break down the defense. So what did WSU do? Dropped one of its guards into the high post. The Cougs were, essentially, daring UCLA to shoot while doing everything they could to keep the Bruins from getting easy shots.
  • When UCLA's bigs started to take over in the second half, an adjustment was made. It was an adjustment that worked, as well. WSU went to a box-and-one type defense. DeAngelo Casto sat in Josh Smith's hip and the Cougs ran what looked to be a box defense. The paint was, once again, clogged, and UCLA struggled.
  • Bone was still able to switch defenses, much to my surprise. WSU pressed, ran man-to-man, zone and even threw in a few junk defenses throughout the game. It kept Howland on his toes and gave the Bruins a few different looks.
  • On the offensive end, Bone quickly installed a Princeton-like offense. In the first half, everything ran out of the high post, with back cuts all over the place. They resulted in easy lay-ins and wide-open shots. It was perfectly suited for the personnel on the floor.
The only decision I wondered about, as many others did, concerned the use of Motum. But looking at when he was subbed in, it seems Bone was using Motum to end the first and second half. Consider Motum has never played more than 30 minutes in a game, and typically averages in the low-to-mid 20s. If I had to guess, Bone wanted Motum to close, and he did well in that role.

Yes, it was frustrating to see Aden waltz down the court and jack up a contested 25-footer to end the game -- and I have no doubt that was not the play. It was frustrating to see the inbounds pass go out of bounds in overtime on a poor pass. Just keep in mind this was the Cougs' third team, and it played so far above its head for 40 minutes, it's not even funny.

It would've been great to bring home a win, something we, as fans, and they, as a team, would likely remember for a very long time. But playing undermanned, the Cougs put on a show for us in a game I expected to be over before the first TV timeout. Any hopes of an at-large bid -- no matter how small they were before -- are gone with the loss, but boy did they put up a fight.

On Saturday, I was able to watch Klay Thompson show his character while apologizing for his arrest. I was able to watch a group that nobody gave a chance battle with UCLA. And I was emotionally invested in a game I didn't care much about before tip-off. Sports can be amazing sometimes.