Sometimes there are games that defy all logic. And those games are just the best when they work in your favor.
On Friday after the Stanford game, Nusser pointed out the Cougs don't do anything particularly well, so when they have a bad shooting night, it's almost a guaranteed loss. This is correct. Yet, here we have WSU shooting a cool 43.6% eFG for the afternoon, yet remained in control for the entire forty minutes.
The Cougs couldn't shoot. They had a hard time getting to the line and didn't grab too many offensive boards. At one point, Mike Montgomery had one helluva Ron Fairley-ism with "If you can't shoot the ball, you really find yourself at a disadvantage." But WSU won on the road and snapped a fourteen game losing streak because WSU turned in its best defensive performance in at least four years.
The Cougs spent the majority of the first half with no fewer than three players in the paint at all times, which forced Cal into taking contested shots anytime they drew near the basket. The Cougs took plenty of gambles by double teaming virtually anyone who got the ball in the paint, and Cal was unable to make them pay for it, resulting in six first half turnovers and another six missed wide-open threes. Cal shot a paltry 20.4% eFG in the first half and it seemed to have more to do with what WSU was imposing rather than what Cal wasn't doing effectively.
Offensively, WSU was having a tough time converting open looks; for the first ten minutes or so, the offense seemed to revolve around the black hole encompassing Jordan Railey where all good shots go to die. A dry Mike Montgomery quipped "I'm not sure that's his shot" after Railey missed a 3 footer. But a stretch late in the first half where the Cougs scored on four straight possessions was just enough to walk into the locker room with a four-point halftime lead after finishing on a 9-2 run.
The offense for both sides got going early in the 2nd half, with both teams combining for 14 points in the first two minutes. After both teams came to their inevitable cooldown, Cal seemed content with letting Jordan Railey beat them. After a five minute stretch where neither team scored a field goal, and Railey going three straight possessions with two missed layups and a travel, the only thing Monty had left was "If you're Jordan Railey, it's not your fault your teammates are throwing you the ball."
Railey did eventually make them pay for it (!!!) both with a pretty jump hook and some nice outlet passes to Josh Hawkinson who didn't seem to miss the entire afternoon (note: he went 6 for 10).
Cal began to break down WSU's defense late in the 2nd half by drawing contact and going to the free throw line on four straight possessions, but WSU countered late with a lineup in the paint of Railey, Hawkinson and Brett Boese, who merely had to put their hands in the air and clog the paint, forcing Cal back into their previous plan of taking off balance shots around the 7 foot Railey and taking ill-advised 24 footers.
This was a promising win. It really didn't seem like a fluke. As someone who loudly predicted this team would go 0-18 in conference, it's nice to be proven wrong in the first weekend. It's also nice to get a win without something to brush off like shooting 60% from behind the arc or something. WSU might be on to something with this whole "defense" thing.
Your Cougs are now 1-1 in Conference play and head to Seattle to play Washington on Saturday afternoon before the Seahawks game.