Washington played one heck of a ballgame. Aziz N’Diaye was throwing back shots like Mutombo in the commercial posterizes the kids’ cereal box. Scott Suggs was hitting the most difficult shots I’ve seen anybody even attempt this season and Chris Wilcox was supplementing that. The Huskies had a stretch of 4 or 5 straight dunks to balloon the lead to 19 at one point in the middle stages of the 2nd half. It was ALL Huskies.
But then something changed and D.J. Shelton became a different player. Up until that point, Shelton had put in a few baskets but Motum was the only one doing any real work for the Cougs, and boy was he doing work. But Shelton took the game over, demanding the ball and then going to work himself. He hit a couple of shots and then Motum, and then finally Woolridge. The lead fell to 9 but Suggs buried 2 daggers from so far beyond the three point line he was practically in Seattle. With the lead back to 15 at 62-47 with just under 8 to go, Washington State had made their rally and again was dead in the water. They should have just quit.
But Shelton kept coming, as he made a baseline move and flew to the rim to throw down a dramatic, rim rattling dunk while getting fouled. He then showed the most emotion the Cougs had seen all night, looking at his bench and yelling something to them emphatically. It woke the Cougars up.
Suddenly we saw a team we haven’t seen all season, even last week. Because last week was about momentum at home, and last night was about supreme confidence and belief in each other, which is something I haven’t seen from this team. Either way, movement, sharing and aggressive, shut down D was back and it was an inspired 15-0 run before a couple late mistakes sealed the deal and the purple put in a game winner with about a minute to go, but it doesn’t matter. While one game more would have served its purpose well, this was more about attitude. Let’s face it, this season was a wash until last week. We finally saw a lightbulb come on and we finally saw a team “get it”, that’s a really big deal.
Some will blame coach Ken Bone for not being able to draw up a winning play for the entirety of 3 possessions when the game was tied, but I think the players just didn’t execute in this case. You aren’t going to do better than your best guy (with 28 points already), one-on-one at the 3 point line with a guy 6 inches shorter than he is with under 10 seconds to go. That’s good coaching, but the players have to come through. In this case, Motum came up a play short, doing the last thing you wanted as a Cougar fan, trying to draw a foul instead of trying to score in some fashion. It was a “veteran play”, just not right for the moment.
But it’s ok! Let’s forget that we’re not moving to round 2, where we likely would’ve run out of gas anyway. I mean you never know but let’s be realistic. Last night, the team earned major respect from Cougar Nation. They proved they can play great ball under their coach at and away from the home druthers of Friel, even if we didn’t see it much this year and even if it WAS for only 10 minutes in the 2nd half. They proved that they are a team of misfortune this season, but not a totally lost cause. And they found other go-to guys than Brock Motum in the final 10, which is the most important thing knowing that they won’t have him next year.
The players that are coming back will take more from last weeks’ wins and this loss than they have taken from everything since they arrived on campus and we will see a different Cougar team next season, I really believe that. One that’s not scared of big moments like they were at so many times this season. One that finally understands the “big boy” game a little bit.
I have to believe Bone is at least somewhat responsible for that. For all the bad things we said about Bone this year, he mustered a courageous effort from his troops in this one and that’s not a small victory, it’s a large one. This team was down NINETEEN with under 15 minutes left and getting alley-ooped off the floor! It was a UW party and nobody believed it wasn’t going to be a 25 point blowout. But somehow Bone and Shelton (and in no small part Brock Motum who had kept them even within 19) got this team to believe in itself. Woefully short handed in a season of utter disaster, this team pulled together in the Pac-12 Tournament to tie the game!
You’ve got something to be proud of Cougs!
As much scrutiny as there is sure to be over the offseason for this coaching staff, if we see the D.J. Shelton that showed up last night, a Woolridge that showed up the last 4 weeks and get what we think we’re getting in young talent and size, we’re going to be a much improved overall team regardless of who’s coaching.
I feel really awful that Brock Motum came so close to making the second round after his effort, only to have it end that way. He was an incredible player for us over the last couple years and again last night was an absolute super-hero. He will be missed and so will Mike Ladd. Congrats guys, you went out well.
Go Cougs! See you next year!