When you lose three consecutive games by double-digits, it becomes gut check time. You can either roll over and play out the string or you can regroup and make the next team feel your frustration. Washington State was able to hang with the 14-5 Colorado Buffaloes for most of the evening, but the disparity in made free throws was too much to overcome and the Cougs lost their fifth straight.
Ike Iroegbu got out to a fast start, scoring six of WSU's first nine points in the first three minutes of the ballgame, and a pair of Josh Hawkinson free throws gave the Cougs an 11-7 lead four minutes into the game...
...and then for awhile it all fell apart.
Colorado would score the next 14 points from a variety of spots on the floor, allowing seven different Buffalo players to find the basket before WSU would score again.
Junior Longrus picked up his 3rd foul roughly eight minutes into the game, allowing Connor Clifford to get some early minutes. The big presence in the paint frustrated Colorado down low, causing some missed shots and letting the Cougs get out and run, and were able to pull within five at 23-18 by the eight minute mark.
But that was as close as the Cougs would come again in the first half. WSU was able to find Clifford down low for five field goals to keep pace with Colorado, but a mind-numbing 3-10 from the field goal line, keeping the Cougs seven points at bay to close the half. Colorado was able to adjust to Clifford in the middle, drawing him outside and penetrating, finishing with the following six offensive possessions:
(At halftime, I changed the channel over to the Fast and Furious marathon on USA, and Torreto just sent the crew out to begin the crazy heist in Fast Five. I want you to know it took a lot of willpower to switch back over to the game to cover this nonsense for you.
Salud, mi familia.)
The Clifford show from the first half was short-lived, as he picked up three fouls in the first three minutes of the 2nd half, forcing Ernie Kent to switch back to Brett Boese. Without the big man to feed, Iroegbu took matters into his own hands, making three layups in the next three minutes, to pull WSU within three.
Clifford was inserted back into the lineup at the 12-minute mark and the Cougs woke up offensively. Clifford was fouled making a layup to bring WSU within one and after a pair of Colorado free throws, Iroegbu hit a 25-footer as the shot clock expired to tie the game.
WSU's defense had been getting stops for most of the second half, sometimes allowing wide-open looks and flat out daring Colorado to shoot the ball, but the Buffs weren't able to capitalize, keeping the Cougs in the game. But as the 2nd half carried on, Colorado was able to get out to a seven point lead with a little over two minutes left.
At a time when it appeared Colorado would play out the stretch, Iroegbu took over. A series of free throws, a layup, a steal and another layup would bring the Cougs within one at the 22-second mark. Xavier Thalton made both of his free throws and taking the tying three-pointer, Iroegbu threw up an airball.
The effort was there tonight for the Cougs; I think at times WSU may have been a little lucky on the defensive end where Colorado was missing open looks, but the Cougs were able to take advantage and stay in a game where they shot 59% from the free throw line. Clifford was a bright star, making eight of nine shots off the bench and Ike Iroebgu outscored all players on both teams, finishing with 27 points. Colorado only shot 40% from the field, but 22 of 26 free throws allowed them to fly out of Pullman this evening with the win.
The loss leaves WSU with a losing record, now 9-10 overall and 1-6 in conference play, dead last in the Pac 12. It doesn't get any easier next week: next for the Cougs is a road trip to the Southern California schools, where on Thursday night they'll try and extract revenge on a USC team that manhandled them in Pullman earlier this month.