Washington State earned their first Pac-10 win of the season Saturday night by defending home court against Stanford. In a game where the lead went back and forth during the second half, the Cougs did something they haven't been able to do this season. Coach Tony Bennett's ballclub won a close game against a solid opponent.
This was a matchup of two teams that made it to the Sweet 16 last season. That was then. Since last March, both schools have seen key players move on to play professional basketball.
For Cougar fans, this game may be the beginning of what they have been waiting for.
When were the young guns of Wazzu going to mature? They may have turned that corner tonight.
Stanford came into Pullman leading the Pac-10 in scoring. They passed by Cal in that category after the Cougs shut down the Bear offense Thursday night.
Stanford will leave Pullman second in scoring after WSU played great defense, again, holding the Cardinal 34 points below their average.
Not only was the final score close, for the first 20 minutes, it didn't look as though the Cougs were going to put up much of a challenge to the visitors.
Washington State jumped out to a 3-0 start, then didn't make another basket over the next five minutes. By then, Stanford jumped out to a 9-3 advantage.
Two Klay Thompson treys drew the two teams even at 9-9.
For the next 13 minutes, Washington State looked very, very tight on offense. They couldn't get into any sort of offensive flow. Couldn't successfully run a play. Couldn't grab an offensive rebound. Worst of all, they couldn't make a basket.
Senior Taylor Rochestie converted a runner just before half time that brought the Cougs back to striking range, 22-30.
Freshman Abe Lodwick was an early substitution for Coach Bennett who is trying to find a combination of players that play together with some confidence. Though Lodwick wasn't the answer, in terms of scoring, he played well.
Even the stellar defense played by freshman DeAngelo Casto in the first half couldn't make up for WSU's scoring frustrations.
WSU subs failed to score a single point in the first half. Casto changed things for bench production immediately in the second half, scoring the first Wazzu basket. He followed that up with a block, second of the game, at the other end of the court.
Whatever Coach Bennett told his players in the locker room at intermission seemed to inspire. Following the lead of Casto, Washington State looked much more at ease. They weren't over-thinking their next move. It was about playing with passion and letting it all hang out.
About four minutes into the second half, there was a significant indication that Coach Bennett's young guns are maturing. Klay Thompson took a Stanford turnover the length of the court for a slam dunk. Thompson was immediately surrounded by his team mates.
Then it happened. Klay smiled. That's right, Klay showed emotion in a very positive way. Even if WSU couldn't complete the comeback, the young guns were having fun.
By the time Coach Johnnie Dawkins team got their feet under them, WSU made a 12-2 run and took their first lead since the score was 3-2 in the opening minutes of the game.
Neither team had a lead larger than three points the rest of the way.
In the end, it was the freshman, DeAngelo Casto who sealed the victory for Washington State. Talented senior guard Anthony Goods drove for a layup that would have put Stanford ahead with just seven seconds left on the clock.
Casto easily blocked Goods attempt and was fouled. Though there were five seconds left in the game, it would take a miracle for the Cardinal to pull out a win.
For the second game in a row, WSU was led by Rochestie's 21 points and excellent play at both ends. Thompson poured in 13, the only other Coug in double figures.
After shooting an abysmal 20 percent in the first half on 5-20, WSU finished the game 35 percent from the field. Yes, there's plenty of room for improvement. The Cougs were out-rebounded 16-10 in the first half but finished the contest nearly dead even in boards.
WSU executed Bennett Ball once again, forcing Stanford to shot just 37 percent from from the field. They only gave up one transition basket the entire game. Defense continues to be the strength of this team.
The cross-state trip for the heavily favored Stanford Cardinal was supposed to be enjoyable for Coach Dawkins''s team.
Not Saturday night. Not in Pullman. Not on the hardwood of Friel Court.
Stanford falls to 11-3 on the season and 1-3 in Pac-10 play.
Washington State improves to 9-6 overall and 1-2 in the conference.
More importantly Cougar Nation, the Cougs are maturing. They have beaten a quality opponent. They are on their way.