This was a golden opportunity to pick up a huge road win over a quality opponent to boost our NCAA tournament resume, and we blew it. Yes, we played better than expected, but there are no moral victories. This was a painful loss that epitomizes our inability to finish games over the last 6 years. We were in great position to shock the country with an 11 point lead with 6 minutes left in the game. We proceeded to be outscored 13-1 in the last 6 minutes.
The end result is all that matters, but it wasn't like the night was a complete disaster. We faced a top 15 team on the road, and not only held our own, but took it to them for most of the game. The offense wasn't great, but WSU is a very good defensive team, so I can live with that. Shannon Hale has struggled much of this year, but made some great plays for us. He finished tied with Levi for leading team scorer with 13 points, and really gave us a spark off the bench.
The bench was constantly up and into the game, and there were several possessions in the second half when WSU scored to cut the lead to 5 or 6, and we showed great poise in executing the offense and getting a basket on the other end to maintain our comfortable 8-10 pt lead.
I liked our game plan overall. WSU has some big wings and guards, but while they have a size advantage in the post their big men aren't particularly skilled. We started out in a tight man and put some pressure on them, but then switched to a zone mostly in the second half and we did a good job, for the most part, of closing out on their perimeter shooters. Taylor and Kessens cleaned up the glass and guarded the rim well. Everything was looking as good as could be expected and we had a double digit lead on the road with around 6 minutes to play, but then the momentum shifted.
I loved the effort tonight. I felt like we outworked them for most of the evening. We had better energy, beat them to loose balls, etc. When it came down to clutch time, they responded and we didn't have an answer. There were a few questionable calls in the last 5 minutes that did not go our way, but you have to expect that and be able to overcome it on the road, and we were not. I thought Taylor fouling out was a huge factor in the outcome of the game. They relentlessly attacked the rim the final minutes, and routinely either got to the line or got second chance opportunities.
We were outmatched and on the road in a hostile environment and had a chance to win, so I'm hesitant to criticize Coach Grant for this one. I thought we were well prepared, and showed a great amount of mental toughness for much of the game (at least up until the point when Taylor fouled out), but again, I think we misused the timeout situation at the end of the game. We had a timeout remaining, down one (we would have been tied, but Levi had another off night from the line and only made one of two the previous trip), and with about 4-5 seconds remaining it was obvious there was no clear path to the basket that would result in an open shot. THAT is the time to call a timeout. Instead, we waited until the ball was knocked away and we were fortunate to recover with 1.2 seconds remaining, which only leaves enough time to draw up a desperation catch and shoot from Cooper from beyond the arc.
Heartbreaking loss, and while there is a lot of basketball to be played, it's very possible that this will be one that keeps us out of the tournament. Up next, Stillman comes across town for another ridiculous tipoff time, 6 pm Central Friday night.