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Recap: Santa Clara hands WSU a final non-conference defeat

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WSU will enter Pac-12 play with six losses.

Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars fell to 0-6 in games not played at Beasley Coliseum after the Santa Clara Broncos handed them a 79-71 defeat at Spokane Arena on Saturday.

The loss dropped the Cougs to 7-6 overall as the non-conference season came to a close, despite WSU playing the ninth-easiest schedule in the country. Santa Clara improved to 8-6 and picked up its second win over a Pac-12 school in the last three games.

WSU played without Robert Franks for the second time this season, this time being held out with a hip contusion. And after the game, WSU coach Ernie Kent was quick to allude to Franks’ absence as a reason for the loss.

“You never want to make excuses, and I never will, because we’ve had some injuries along the way, in particular in our losses, but there’s nothing we can do about that,” Kent said in his typical I’m-not-making-excuses-but-totally-making-excuses way. Later, he would say, “If you look at our losses, they’re all close games, we’ve not been blown out yet, and again, not making excuses, we need to get all those veteran guys healthy and playing at the same time.”

The thing is, you have to squint real hard to see where Franks would have made a major difference in this one. WSU gave up 1.20 points per possession, their third consecutive atrocious defensive outing, and Franks played in the last two — this was just more of the same bad defense with a different cast of characters.

Would Franks have made the difference offensively? Well, the Cougs have only scored greater than 1.20 ppp twice this season — against Cal State Northridge and Idaho — so it’s unlikely they’d have hit that plateau even with him in the lineup.

No, if we’re divvying up the blame pie, it was the defense that gets the lion’s share once again. Santa Clara hit nearly half of its threes (9-for-20) and two-thirds of its shots inside the arc (22-of-33), and the only reason this wasn’t a complete blowout was because the Broncos somehow shot just 8-of-17 from the free throw line. Ernie can talk all he wants about close losses, but they really didn’t have anything to do with this one being close.

Ernie blamed the poor defense on bad communication between players who don’t normally play together as he is continuing to get different players lots of run in the non-conference schedule.

“That’s the newness of this team that we just have to live with until they understand the intensity level you have to play with and the intelligence level you have to play with, possession by possession,” Kent said.

That, of course, requires you to set aside the fact that the defense has been consistently bad at all times for the last five years no matter who was playing, ranking 298th, 188th, 202nd, 278th and 276th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

CJ Elleby tried his darndest to carry the offensive load, but the true freshman proved once again that he’s not quite ready for that kind of burden, scoring 19 points on 18 shots including 2-of-7 from three. He also contributed eight rebounds, two assists and two turnovers.

Marvin Cannon continues to be a bright spot — he also scored 19 points but needed just seven shots to do it, thanks to his seven free throw attempts. On the season, he now has 44 free throw attempts and just 42 field goal attempts, a remarkable ratio that would be second in the nation if he had enough minutes to qualify.

The Cougs now get an entire week off before opening the Pac-12 season at Washington next Saturday, the first of three away games to start the conference slate.