The Colorado Buffaloes came into Pullman on Wednesday with five wins on the trot, but that was put to an end by the mighty Washington State Cougars when the Buffs’ last second heave missed badly, giving WSU a hard-fought 76-74 victory.
The Cougs (11-15 overall, 4-9 Pac-12) have now won three out of four games themselves, with the only loss being a two-point setback to the first place Washington Huskies, and they sit just one game out of 10th place in the conference. Colorado fell to 16-10 and 7-7, dropping to seventh.
With Robert Franks having an inefficient night — and, in a related development, the team shooting poorly overall — the Cougars would have to rely on their defense. WSU played primarily man-to-man early, to mixed results; high ball screens seemed to present a particular problem, with Jeff Pollard and Ahmed Ali repeatedly taken advantage of on switches.
Where WSU really shined was in its zone, thanks largely to Colorado missing a boatload of shots. The Buffs, who came into the game shooting just 33 percent from deep as a team, were enticed into launching a whopping (for them) 29 three-point attempts and could convert only nine of them.
In one stretch in the second half, the Cougars deployed a trapping 1-3-1 zone. The result was a trio of wide open three-point attempts. Colorado missed all three badly. Perhaps realizing its folly, Colorado eschewed threes on the next two possessions, instead converting easy twos. WSU then scrapped the set and returned to the 2-3.
Sometimes, you win the three-point lottery!
The Buffaloes also could only make 42 percent of their twos against a defense that had allowed opponents to shoot 55 percent inside the arc. This included a missed dunk off a steal in the backcourt.
About the only saving grace for the Buffaloes’ offense was that the game was called tightly, resulting in 19 trips to the line, of which they made 15.
The Cougars’ offense wasn’t a whole lot better. The Cougars looked generally uninterested in decisive actions against the Buffaloes’ aggressive defense, instead preferring the sorts of isolation plays that usually produce bad results for this team. For a night, though, it was good enough — CJ Elleby was particularly potent, scoring 18 points on 13 attempts while also grabbing eight rebounds and handing out four assists. Eleven of those points came int he second half with the offense struggling. Perhaps most notable was that Elleby, who didn’t start, had just two turnovers.
As mentioned, Franks didn’t have his best night, needing 19 shots to score his 19 points. But Marvin Cannon had a big second half to pick up the slack, scoring eight points, which included a couple of made threes — part of a 10-of-19 attack from beyond the arc that allowed the offense to be juuuuuust good enough, despite shooting just 42 percent on twos. Cannon finished with 13 points.
Isaiah Wade also had a nice game that was a major contributing factor in the win. Pollard got his head banged at one point, and Ernie Kent relied heavily on the reserve forward; he paid it off with eight total rebounds, including three offensive. Two of those led directly to second-chance points that proved critical in providing the final margin.
WSU now welcomes the Utah Utes into Beasley Coliseum on Saturday. Tip off is at 5 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.