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WSU goes cold in the 2nd half, falls to Colorado 70-59

It’s the fifth straight loss for the Cougars.

PULLMAN, WA - JANUARY 23: Washington State guard Noah Williams (24) applies pressure on Colorado guard McKinley Wright IV (24) during the second half of a Pac 12 matchup between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Washington State Cougars on January 23, 2021, at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Colorado Buffaloes outscored the Washington State Cougars by 18 points in the second half, turning a 7-point deficit into an 11-point victory as the Cougs dropped their fifth straight game, 70-59.

The Cougars slipped to 9-6 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12, while Colorado improved to 12-4 and 6-3, remaining in third place behind league leaders UCLA and USC.

Unlike the past few games, the Cougs didn’t stumble out of the gate; Kyle Smith emphasized after the Utah game that WSU needed to get back to its defense-first identity, and they did just that early in this one, racing out to an improbable 23-5 lead in just over 8 minutes of game time.

Isaac Bonton rebounded from his worst game of the season, scoring 9 of the Cougs’ first 18 points after scoring just 4 against Utah. He hit a 3, a couple of midrange jumpers, and even a pair of free throws. It was the first time WSU had held a lead since late against Stanford, four games ago, and it was a welcome change from the noncompetitive first halves that had plagued them recently.

Unsurprisingly, the veteran Buffaloes were unfazed, quickly getting back into the game with a 14-2 run over the next five minutes that cut the lead to six. But the Cougs battled for the remainder of the half, even pumping the lead back up to 11 points with a 7-0 run near the end of the half before the Buffs hit a pair of buckets to trim the lead to 37-30 at the break.

The most welcome development of the first half was the return of the effective defense that had powered the team’s 8-0 start and led to the Cougs nearly knocking off Arizona and giving Stanford a run for its money. The Buffs had been scoring 1.10 points per possession in conference play, but could only muster 0.91 in the opening period thanks to the reinvigorated Cougs who once again clogged the lane and cleared the boards — CU shot just 9-of-22 on 2s and grabbed only 4 offensive rebounds.

The second half ... well, that was a reversion to form for both teams. Colorado exploited gaps in the Cougars’ zone defense — WSU was forced to turn to it after foul trouble began to emerge in the first half.

At the same time, twisting the clamps on the Cougar offense, which once again struggled to find space to operate. The Cougs shot just 9-of-27 overall after the break and only 2-of-8 from 3 with just 4 trips to the free throw line — and 8 turnovers.

The decisive 17-2 run started with about 9 minutes to go and spanned six minutes, turning a 3-point lead into an 18-point lead and putting the game out of reach.

There will be no rest for the weary Cougars, however: They now travel to Boulder to face the Buffaloes again on Wednesday in a make-up for the postponement of November’s contest.