After entering the weekend with big hopes for an NCAA tournament push, the Washington State Cougars have come out winless in the homestand after a stunning loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils, 58-55.
ASU (8-15, 4-9 in Pac-12) gifted WSU (14-9, 7-5) a final possession down three with 4.7 seconds left, but the Cougs couldn’t inbound the ball cleanly and Noah Williams heaved the ball down court and right into the hands of a Luther Muhammad, who dribbled out the clock and silenced Beasley Coliseum.
“We just didn’t have enough juice, just didn’t play hard enough,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said.
It’s arguable that this weekend’s homestand was the biggest in Beasley for the program in over a decade. The Cougars needed to take at least one of these games, with ASU obviously being the most likely. Instead, the Cougars laid an egg and dropped both — and certainly did not help their NCAA tournament prospects.
For his part, Smith would rather not even talk about that.
“I mean ... that’s not even something we need to be thinking about, to be honest,” he said. “We get that attention and we try to stay away from it, but I know it’s there and and this weekend was big in the sense that a lot of people came in — you know, friends and family come to watch Arizona. (They) think we’ve arrived and clearly we haven’t — clearly we haven’t. You gotta prove yourself. The cliches are true because it’s day by day, possession by possession, and if you get caught thinking ahead, things can happen.”
Both teams got out to much hotter starts in the first half than their last meeting, matching the halftime total not even eight minutes into the game. Mouhamed Gueye punctuated the early offense with a thunderous dunk that showed his ankle — which caused him to leave the game against Arizona on Thursday — was more than okay.
A T.J. Bamba three sandwiched in between a pair of Noah Williams buckets in the paint a few minutes after the Gueye hammer gave WSU a five-point lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the half ... and also ended up being the last points before another infamous scoring drought — this one lasting nearly six minutes.
Muhammad, who had a big game off the bench to score 12 points, took advantage and went on a personal 6-0 run to take the lead at the 6:05 mark. ASU then went on a scoring drought of its own, not scoring for two and a half minutes. The offenses dragged their feet over the next four minutes as the scoreboard read 29-27 WSU at the break.
The offenses continued to drag their feet into the second half. Arizona State didn’t score for the first three and a half minutes and WSU didn’t for the first five minutes. WSU’s offense finally started to get going in the back half of the final period, but every time WSU scored, ASU immediately responded, preventing the Cougars from catching the Sun Devils.
The teams continued to trade buckets, and a Tyrell Roberts 3-pointer with 2:53 to go pulled the Cougars to within a point. But Arizona State broke the trend on a Marreon Jackson three and a Jalen Graham jumper to push the Sun Devil lead to six with just 1:21 to go.
Michael Flowers — who otherwise had his worst game of the season — gave WSU a glimmer of hope with a three with 45 seconds to go ...
... and then WSU used a trap on defense to come up with the steal they were looking for, nearly giving the ball right back to ASU after the ball was fumbled around. Roberts emerged from the chaos, calling the Cougars’ final timeout. Out of the timeout, the Cougars’ initial options for a good look were denied by ASU, and Roberts created space on a step-back three. But his game-tying attempt hit the front rim with eight seconds to go.
ASU got the ball in but stepped out of bounds, giving WSU yet another chance at a miracle. Williams was set to inbound, and Flowers and Roberts were in the backcourt trying to get open. With the five second violation looming, Williams heaved a pass down the court like he was preparing to play in the Super Bowl, and it landed right in the lap of Arizona State’s Luther for a game-sealing interception.
“It’s hard to sweep teams,” Smith said. “I mean, this program was top five in the country a couple of years ago, and it’s been in the NCAA tournament. I know they’ve got some new faces, but their coach is still the same and he was like: No, not you, Washington State. And we obliged.”
WSU will need to rebound quickly, as they head to play the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Monday. The Ducks are fresh off a disappointing loss themselves to California.
Dishon Jackson, who has been out since early January with an eye injury, participated in pregame activities but did not end up playing.