The Washington State Cougars hung tough for three quarters of the game, but the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes were just too much in the end as they powered to a 78-56 victory in Boulder.
Coming off the emotional high of a home sweep of the Oregon schools, WSU (12-8 overall, 3-4 Pac-12) fought hard in an arena where they’ve had literally no success — they have never won at the CU Events Center — leading for nearly 11 minutes in the first half.
Freshman Noah Williams completed an and-1 with just under 10 seconds remaining in the opening period to pull the Cougs within three, although a foul on McKinley Wright with just one second left that resulted in a pair of made free throws put the Buffaloes up by five at the break, 38-33.
Colorado started to pull away a little bit, early in the second half — the Buffs outscored WSU 9-3 in the first four minutes to take an 11-point lead. But WSU answered back when CJ Elleby hit a three and then a midrange jumper. Shane Gatling hit a couple of baseline jumpers for Colorado, but little-used Deron Henson drained a couple of 3s and suddenly WSU was within four. Colorado then hit a three, and Isaac Bonton answered with a three, and with the score 54-50 with more than 12 minutes to play, it appeared a shootout was on.
It was not.
Over the next 11 minutes, Colorado outscored WSU 24-3 as the Cougars shot just 1-of-14 with four turnovers. The run just happened to coincide with the absence of Jeff Pollard, who took a knock in a collision with Evan Battey and appeared to be favoring is leg. He did come back in the game, but most of the damage had already been done as the game spiraled out of control, largely due to giving up too many open three-pointers and too many offensive rebounds.
In that way, the game was uncharacteristic of the WSU team we’ve grown used to; those are things the team is typically very good at. The broadcast kept suggesting the Cougars were out of gas, but that seemed odd given that Smith spread the minutes around quite a bit — making it felt like a little bit of a cop out. Smith noted that there came a point where maybe the team didn’t fight as hard as they needed to in order to complete the job.
Henson was a big bright spot, scoring 13 points in 17 minutes. However, it appeared he had a handful of defensive lapses that counteracted his offensive contributions. Elleby finished with 15 points and five rebounds.
The Cougars will next be in action on Saturday against the Utah Utes at 4 p.m. PT.