The Sun Devils arrived in Pullman brimming with confidence after sweeping UCLA and USC last week in conference play. Heck, this ASU team not only has swagger, they unabashedly pronounce their greatness. Those claims are led by freshman point guard Jahii Carson who is the self-proclaimed best point guard, best freshman, etc., in the Pac-12…if not the nation.
It’s one thing to talk the talk. Carson and his teammates walked right over the Cougars in crunch time to come away with another victory.
Early on it appeared Washington State (11-10, 2-6) would defend their home court Thursday night as they hosted Arizona State (17-4, 6-2) in Pac-12 play.
The Cougs got off to a nice start once they shook off some initial tension. Brock Motum nailed a three-pointer that gave WSU a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the first half.
For Coach Ken Bone and his team, second half play came up second best for yet another tough loss.
With 3:35 left in the game, Carrick Felix capped an 8-0 run by ASU to take a 58-51 lead which should have put the game easily in their win column.
One thing this Cougar hoops team knows how to do is play hard and leave everything on the court. When many squads, and most of Cougar Nation, would have caved to the momentum captured by ASU, Ken Bone’s guys regrouped during a much needed timeout and began a run of their own.
Royce Woolridge aggressively drove to the rack and deftly banked in a layup with about a minute and a half left in regulation to tie the game at 58-58.
As freshmen are prone to do, Carson missed a pair of free throws that could have finished the deal for ASU with 1:01 remaining.
Credit some fine defense down the stretch by the Sun Devils which took the Cougs out of any offensive play they attempted.
It’s worth noting the continued solid performance by senior Mike Ladd. He leadership on the court has been outstanding. In 36-minutes of play, Ladd tallied 14 points, 7 boards and 2 steals.
Woolridge continues to improve, leading Washington State in scoring with 16 points while dishing out 4 assists. His energy on both ends of the floor is contagious.
In the end, there’s no rational way to sugarcoat the situation. The Cougs have yet to evolve into a team that expects to win. That my friends is the difference between the two opponents Thursday night.
The guys who walked onto Friel Court with winning swagger strutted off after the final buzzer victorious.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
· Dexter Kernich-Drew finished with 10 points, marking his first double-figure scoring performance in Pac-12 play (a Pac-12 personal best) and his first since scoring 10 against Jackson State (Dec. 13).
· Brock Motum finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, marking his second-straight double-double and his third of the season.
· The Cougars’ 2 first-half fouls tie a season-low, while they combined with the Sun Devils for 6 total first half fouls, the lowest combined in a game this season in the first 20 minutes.
· WSU’s 7 first-half 3-pointers tie for its most in a first half this season…was 7-for-14 in the first half from 3-point range.
· The Cougars assisted on 10 of their 19 made field goals.
· Six of WSU’s 10 losses have come by 7 points or less.