Washington State (8-8, 1-3 Pac-12) was able to get off the snide Sunday evening. They used smothering defense to shut down Utah (12-4, 1-3 Pac-12) in their first home conference game at Beasley Coliseum.
FINAL: WSU 49 – Utah 46
Coach Ken Bone showed concern about how many points his Cougs could put up on the scoreboard and continued the strategy of taking the air out of the ball on offense.
Without the services of his best all-around player, DaVonté Lacy, Bone employed a scheme where his guys weren’t even looking to work for a shot until the shot clock was down to ten-seconds or less.
For much of the first half, it appeared WSU couldn’t find an open man running their motion offense. They didn’t reach double-digits until there was a little over six minutes left to play before intermission. A nice 17′ jumper by Josh Hawkinson closed the score to 21-11 in favor of the visiting Utes.
Trailing 24-19 and with the ball for the final possession of the half, the Cougs could not get a shot off despite having :29.2 to set up a play out of a timeout. Yes, that exercise in futility was a microcosm of Washington State struggles without Lacy on the floor.
If WSU doesn’t have much firepower, they have shown tremendous improvement on the defensive side of things.
Unlike the last few games, Cougar guards challenged the Utes in the paint. That was especially true of their play in the second half. Dexter Kernich-Drew, Royce Woolridge and Que Johnson all fell out of love with casting off bricks from outside in favor of attempting a series of acrobatic layup attempts.
That proved to be the difference in this game.
After making just 7-23 field goals in the first half, the Cougs were a respectable 8-17 over the final 20-minutes. They only attempted three long range bombs in the second half, knocking down two of them.
Adjusting to the way the game was being officiated, Bone told his guys to drive to the bucket every chance they had. “…midway through the second half when it seemed like those (hand check) calls were being made frequently, we tried to join the party and attack,” explained the WSU head coach.
Critics of Ken Bone typically reference the “good old days” when Coach Dick Bennett and his son Tony Bennett were leading WSU men’s hoops with scores looking more like football than basketball. If that’s what they want to see again, Bone is feeding their need these past two conference contests. Colorado managed just 56-points in regulation last Thursday before they managed to eke out a 71-70 win over WSU in overtime. WSU followed up that defensive gem by holding Utah to just 46 and earning a victory in the process.
Defense saved the day against Utah, “…but you’re not going to win a lot of games scoring 49,” said Bone. He has been and will continue to coach up Johnson to become a scorer for WSU.
Coach Bone compared the development of Que to that of a guy who began his career with a similar ‘game face’, Klay Thompson. Thompson attempted just 31 free throws his freshman campaign. Johnson must learn to take what the defense gives him, as he did Sunday. Utah was not going to let him beat them from outside. Que was happy to oblige by converting 10 of a game-high 13 free throw attempts.
Not all of the philosophy shift relates to the Cougs struggling to score. Four players were on the court for 34-minutes or more. Bone is putting the best athletes he has out there to go as far as they can.
“We were not in a rush,” emphasized Ken Bone after the game. “…we were trying to play (certain) guys a lot of minutes and keep them on the floor.”
One guy Coach Bone is hoping to get quality minutes on the floor as soon as possible is the ailing DaVonté Lacy. Only time will tell as to when his sore ribs will let him return to action.
Typical of competing in the Pac-12, things don’t get any easier for Washington State this week as they travel to Stanford for a PAC-12 Networks televised game Wednesday night at 7pm in Maples Pavilion.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- Que Johnson led the Cougars in scoring for the fourth time this season with 14-points. He made a career high 10 free throws in a career high 13 attempts.
- WSU held the nation’s field goal percentage-leader, Utah (52.4% coming in), to just 29.5% (13-44) shooting. The Cougars have now held two opponents this season to under 30% shooting from the field.
- Dexter Kernich-Drew scored in double-figures for the second-straight game with 11 points. It’s the first time he has accomplished that feat and was 5-for-6 from the field.
- D.J. Shelton was one rebound and two points shy of his second-straight double-double with 9 rebounds and 8 points.