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HCA: WSU swept by New Mexico State

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The Cougars drop to 0-3 against the WAC.

Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars lost to the New Mexico State Aggies again on Sunday, this time in Las Vegas at a holiday tournament, 75-72. It drops their overall record this season to 7-5, despite playing the eighth-easiest schedule in the country so far.

It also makes WSU 0-3 against the Western Athletic Conference, having earlier lost to Seattle U.

Both teams were playing their fourth game in a week, but only one team came out slow, as WSU steadily fell further and further behind in the first half to eventually trail by 16 points with about five minutes to go until the break. Included in there was a double technical given to Robert Franks and NMSU’s Johnny McCants, emblematic of the testy nature of a physical game between two opponents who had just played three weeks ago — the Aggies beat WSU at their place back on Dec. 1, 69-63.

The Cougs trailed by 10 at the half as WSU’s two best players struggled mightily — Franks and freshman CJ Elleby combined for just five points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-3 from deep. They also had four of WSU’s nine turnovers, and the Cougs got zero fast break points. About the only thing keeping the offense afloat was nine uncharacteristic points from Jeff Pollard.

Meanwhile, New Mexico State’s JoJo Zamora was going bonkers. The shooting guard had just five points in the first meeting between these two teams, but he scored 21 in the first half alone on 7-of-8 shooting, including 5-of-6 from three-point range. The rest of the Aggies did their damage inside, scoring 20 points in the paint.

WSU clawed back in the second half, however, largely behind Elleby — he scored 18 points after the break on just seven shots, including a clutch three-pointer with seven seconds remaining to tie the game at 72. Franks, meanwhile, sat for the majority of the second half, playing only six minutes, including just three of the final 14 minutes.

But as has been the case countless times in the Kent era, the effort was thwarted by some inexplicably bad defense as the Cougars somehow lost Zamora on the ensuing possession, and he buried a wide-open look from three to provide the final margin.

The focus likely will be on Franks’ lack of productivity, but the reality is that the Cougs did enough on offense to win the game; they hit 44 percent of their 23 three-pointers, and shot 54 percent on their twos. Carter Skaggs was responsible for a good portion of that, hitting all four of his threes on his way to 14 points.

No, it was the 1.15 points per possession the Cougars allowed that eventually did them in, particularly the 65 percent allowed on twos which led to 40 points in the paint.

WSU now ranks 255th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which, if you can believe it, is actually better than last year and only the third-worst ranking of Ernie Kent’s tenure in Pullman.

The Cougs are now off until Saturday, when they’ll play the Santa Clara Broncos in front of tens of fans at the Spokane Arena in an 11 a.m. tip.

Hoops Links

Fireworks erupt after Cougs, Aggies wage Vegas nailbiter - Cougfan.com
LAS VEGAS - The fireworks didn't stop once the game ended. After Washington State fell to New Mexico State 75-72 in a hard-fought, physical game in the Las Vegas Classic,

New Mexico State earns split in Las Vegas with win over Washington State - Las Cruces Sun News
JoJo Zamora hit a corner 3-pointer with one second left in regulation that proved to be the game-winner

Alamo Bowl Links

WSU football: Roaming the Palouse with Braden Johnson - Cougfan.com
PULLMAN – Count me as one who was skeptical when Gardner Minshew first said Cougar fans needed to “quit pouting,” that the football team was thrilled by

Washington State appears focused inward upon Alamo Bowl arrival - Cougfan.com
Here's what Washington State had to say about Iowa State upon its Alamo Bowl arrival.

Leach, Campbell raise programs to relevancy | | qctimes.com
AMES, Iowa — There were moments during a joint press conference between Matt Campbell and Mike Leach that looked as though The Odd Couple was being rebooted.

Alamo Bowl: To Washington State, Iowa State resembles Michigan State
The Cougars had high praise for Matt Campbell, David Montgomery, Brock Purdy and Iowa State's defensive unit when they arrived in San Antonio Sunday afternoon.

Football: NFL chatter not on Montgomery's mind ahead of Alamo Bowl - Ames Tribune
David Montgomery: "I'm enjoying the process right now.”

Football: Notebook — ISU finding balance in experience, expectation of bowl trip - Sports - The Ames Tribune - Ames, IA
Plus a note on the Cyclones' health heading into Alamo Bowl

Iowa State, Washington State arrive in San Antonio for Alamo Bowl - ExpressNews.com
The Cyclones and Cougars will both look to balance fun with football this week as they prepare to meet in the Alamo Bowl on Friday.

Alamo Bowl Betting Odds and Preview (Iowa State vs. Washington State)
The Washington State Cougars are 3 -point favorites over the Iowa State Cyclones, per the best sports betting apps in USA at Alamo Bowl 2018.

Alamo Bowl Prediction and Preview: Iowa State Cyclones vs. Washington State Cougars - Athlon Sports
Our college football experts predict, pick and preview the Alamo Bowl between the Iowa State Cyclones and Washington State Cougars with kickoff time, TV channel and spread.

Iowa State football: 5 things to know about Alamo Bowl opponent Washington State | The Gazette

Grip on Sports: It's time for our annual gift-giving exercise | The Spokesman-Review
All season long this Washington State team kept proving it was different than past Mike Leach-coached teams. Until the face plant in the snow on Apple Cup Friday. So this Friday night the Cougars have a chance to prove, again, that they are different.

Miscellany

Sparks unites Cougars in Cleats vs. Cancer all-star game in Kent - Cougfan.com
IN THE SPAN OF A LITTLE more than two months, former Washington State running back and 1994 Alamo Bowl vet Derek Sparks has pulled together an incredible event— a high school all-star game featuring many of the state of Washington's most outstanding senior football players — in which proceeds will benefit children battling cancer.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens is still confident in the Pac-12's direction under embattled commissioner Larry Scott - The Register Guard