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Recap: WSU falls to shorthanded Stanford, 78-66

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The Cougars’ porous defense lets them down again.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take the Washington State Cougars long to squander the good feelings from their first Pac-12 win, as they lost going away to the depleted Stanford Cardinal, 78-66, today at Beasley Coliseum.

Stanford (9-9 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) was missing two of its top three scorers, including leading scorer KZ Okpala (18.1 points per game), but the Cardinal answered the bell with a relentless and balanced attack in which five players scored between 11 and 15 points. Daejon Davis — formerly coached by WSU assistant Ed Haskins at Garfield High School in Seattle — led the way with 15 points, 6 assists and 5 steals.

It also was only the Cardinal’s second road win all season as WSU (8-10, 1-4) struggled through its toughest shooting day at home; the Cougars’ effective field goal percentage of 48.4 was their first time under 50 at Beasley, and the Cardinal had a lot to do with that.

The Cougars trailed by just four at halftime after clawing back from a 10-point deficit, having been kept afloat by unusually hot shooting from beyond the arc: WSU hit 7-of-14 threes despite making only 7-of-20 twos. Ahmed Ali was especially en fuego, hitting all four of his attempts from deep.

WSU even closed to within one with a quick 7-0 run over the course of a minute early in the half, keyed by a pair of Stanford turnovers that led to fastbreak buckets.

However, Stanford has built its defense this year around denying three-point attempts and funneling drivers into the teeth of a stout two-point defense, and after giving up a bunch of threes in the first half, the Cardinal got back to their bread and butter in the decisive period: In the first 12 minutes of the second half, WSU could squeeze off only five three-pointers, making just one of them. Over that time, Stanford built the lead up to a game-high 11 points.

WSU just didn’t have a lot of answers for other ways to score, so it turned back to the three-point shot, even though most of them were contested. Over the final eight minutes, Viont’e Daniels hit a couple, but Robert Franks missed a few and CJ Elleby and Ali each missed one, and the Cougars could only get as close as five down the stretch before multiple wide-open layups by the Cardinal put the game away.

The Cougs wound up shooting just 42 percent on its 36 twos, got to the line just eight times and turned it over on 20 percent of their possessions. It added up to a paltry 0.93 points per possession — their third time being held under 0.94 in Pac-12 play. (The league median is 1.05.) Stanford, meanwhile, scored at a 1.10 ppp clip, the Cardinal’s second-highest mark in Pac-12 play, and it was only held that low because of Stanford’s characteristic sloppiness in taking care of the ball.

Franks and Elleby had especially tough nights. Franks scored just 12 points — 10 below his season average — on 14 shots, while Elleby scored 18 points but needed 21 shots to get there.

Elleby also had nine rebounds — including five offense, more than every other Cougar combined — three assists and one steal across 40 minutes. Yep, the true freshman played every minute of the game, and while he also led the team in turnovers, he continues to make a strong case for being WSU’s best all-around player. The only question right now is how long his legs can support his relentless activity on the court.

With its two best chances for Pac-12 wins now in the rear view mirror, WSU now faces a daunting task: Kenpom.com gives them a maximum chance of 36 percent to win any of the next eight games. They travel to the Oregon schools this week.

Godspeed, Cougs.