Washington State hung around for a little while, but eventually the firepower of No. 3 Oklahoma was too much as the Sooners ran away from the Cougars in the second half of each team's opener in the Diamond Head Classic, 88-60.
The Cougars now will face Northern Iowa in the loser's bracket of the tournament. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. PT on ESPNU, which means it also can be streamed on your laptop or mobile device via WatchESPN. You also can listen to the game online via TuneIn.com.
WSU actually was within three points with just over a minute to go in the first half, trailing just 34-31. Josh Hawkinson had just made a little jumper off a nice assist from Ike Iroegbu, and it looked as if WSU was squarely in the game.
After all, the Cougars had shot well enough to maintain contact -- Iroegbu had 14 points, including a couple of 3-pointers -- and they had defended well enough to keep Oklahoma from completely going off. In fact, it was really only the Sooners' famous 3-point shooting that had them out in front, as WSU had taken the ball away a bit and done well defending the rim, as they typically do:
However, the tide started to turn right at the end of the half. Ryan Spangler hit a layup, Iroegbu missed a jumper, and for one of the few times in the half, WSU failed to secure the defensive rebound when Que Johnson didn't box out, leading to this:
In a game where it had felt like WSU was giving Oklahoma a legitimate run, the Cougars were suddenly heading to the locker room down seven. And it never got better.
Oklahoma began to stretch the lead out a bit in the first five minutes, making a concerted effort to turn the tempo up as Buddy Hield -- the defending Big 12 player of the year and candidate for national player of year -- scored the Sooners' first eight points of the second half on a pair of 3-pointers and a backdoor layup. He scored 25 points in just 26 minutes, thanks in large part to shooting 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. (He's now above 50 percent from 3 for the season.)
Conor Clifford made a layup on a nice feed from Iroegbu to pull WSU back within nine points at 50-41 with 15:38 to go ...
And then the wheels completely fell off. WSU had absolutely no success slowing down Oklahoma's famous fast break, and a 17-0 run over the next four(!) minutes ended any hope the Cougars had of picking up their first win over an opponent in the top three of the AP poll in the program's history.
WSU is now 48-225 all-time against opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, 1-76 against teams in the top 5, and 0-54 against teams in the top 3.
Scouting the Miami Hurricanes offense
What tendencies do we see out of Miami? Let's just say there's one particular route combination the WSU Cougars should be especially aware of.
Iroegbu would make just one basket in the second half to finish with 16 points, a mark equalled by Hawkinson, who also contributed 10 rebounds (and four steals!) to secure yet another double-double. Nobody else scored in double figures, but Valentine Izundu did block three more shots.
If you're looking for any kind of silver lining, there were a couple. First, the Cougars did an excellent job overall of taking care of the ball -- they turned it over on just 11 percent of their possessions, nearly 10 percent better than usual. The Sooners really don't pressure the ball for takeaways, but that's below what Oklahoma normally gets, so that's a net positive.
Additionally, the two-point defense continues to be solid in the halfcourt game. I'm not able to break out halfcourt sets specifically, but Oklahoma's 54 percent on 2s was bolstered heavily by uncontested fast break layups.
Lastly, Kent was able to rest his regulars thanks to it being a blowout; nobody played more than Iroegbu's 31 minutes. In addition to getting some younger guys some run -- including a Brett Boese appearance (seven points in 10 minutes!) -- the Cougars should have relatively fresh legs for what will be an important matchup tonight against the Panthers.
UNI is a program that was in the NCAA tournament as a five seed last season, and while this team bears little resemblance to that one -- Seth Tuttle has now moved on to a career in Europe -- the Panthers are still pretty good, and will contend for another Missouri Valley title. If you believe kenpom.com, this actually is the third best team WSU has faced this season, after Oklahoma and Gonzaga.
So, this will be a nice little measuring stick for the Cougs. And it also should be a really fun game to watch, as each team's offense finds a favorable matchup against the other's defense.
UNI's defense is soft around the basket -- the Panthers rank 289th and 271st in 2-point percentage and block percentage, respectively -- and that's precisely where the Cougars love to attack. Additionally, the Panthers don't generally take the ball away. Basically, as long as the Cougs don't shoot themselves in their own feet with sloppy ball security, there's really no reason they shouldn't be able to put together an excellent offensive performance.
On the flip side, UNI is as perimeter-oriented a team as WSU has faced this season. The Panthers shoot 3s on nearly 43 percent of their field goal attempts, 37th most nationally. And they don't just shoot a lot of them -- they make a lot of them: 41 percent, 18th most. UNI features six(!) different players with at least 20 3-point attempts, though Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohanon are the two most likely to make you punch your TV; they've combined to shoot 55-for-126 (44 percent) from beyond the arc.
This shouldn't be taken to mean the Panthers never go inside; senior point guard Wes Washpun will most definitely find his way into the lane, where he makes more than 60 percent of his twos, a sublime mark for a guard who stands just 6-foot-1. He also draws a ton of fouls to make frequent trips to the free throw line, and he's supreme at kicking the ball out to UNI's talented shooters.
It's going to create a nice little chess match for the coaches. Izundu started at center last night, but that probably won't happen tonight, since he's not an offensive force and UNI doesn't attack the rim much. Will Kent go with Clifford in an effort to generate offense, or will he lean on Junior Longrus to increase the perimeter defense?
Kent went with Clifford out of the gate in a similar situation against Gonzaga, and while it did generate some offense, it burned him early defensively -- so much so, that it basically was the difference in the game. UNI doesn't have any bigs that shoot like Kyle Wiltjer, but Longrus' activity and ability to switch is a real defensive weapon when he gets away from the basket.
Regardless, if you were wondering whether you should stay up and watch the game tonight, I'd recommend it. There should be a lot of points! If the Cougars win, they'll face the other Cougars (BYU) on Christmas Day. If they lose, they'll face New Mexico, also on Christmas.