Baynes battles Harden(AP Aaron Latham)
The 20th game of the season was the charm for Coach Tony Bennett and his Washington State Cougars. WSU (12-8, 4-4) poured in 38 second half points to defeat No. 14 Arizona State (16-4, 5-3) on their home floor in Tempe, AZ. The final score was a 10-point margin in favor of the Cougs, 65-55.
WSU has looked awful shooting the rock in Pac-10 play going into this road game.
They sure looked better Thursday evening.
There were a couple of reasons the Cougs picked up their scoring in this game.
Freshman Klay Thompson shouldered the offensive load, scoring a career high of 28 points on 10-17 shooting. That doesn't even begin to tell his story. Klay was 8-10 from behind the arc, setting a school record in the process. Thompson pulled down seven boards and played solid defense.
Senior Aron Baynes went off for 22 points on 7-14 shooting and 8-8 from the free throw line. Baynes just missed a double-double again with nine boards to go along with beastly defense in the paint.
ASU was in control of the game much of the first half. Super-sophomore James Harden was a force at both ends of the court for the Sun Devils. Harden's 13 first half points led ASU in scoring at intermission.
Thompson matched the Pac-10's leading scorer with 13 points for the Cougs.
When Harden wasn't going one-on-one against any Cougar daring to cover him, Jeff Pendergraph was working to get open for easy buckets.
After ASU pulled out to a comfortable lead of 17-11 at the eight-minute mark, Coach Bennett finally got through to his team. Get the ball inside to Baynes. A couple of minutes later the gap closed to 19-18, Coach Herb Sendek's Sun Devils suddenly finding themselves in a ball game.
With the clock winding down on the first 20 minutes of play, Daven Harmeling tried a three-point shot for the tie that came up short. Still the Cougs trailed by just three, 30-27.
Coming out of the locker room for the final half of play, Coach Bennett made one adjustment and reinforced what worked for the Cougs in the first half. Bennett switched freshman DeAngelo Casto over to cover Harden every time he started to get hot, and he reminded his troops when on offense, relax and take open shots.
Much to the shock of anyone who follows Pac-10 basketball, WSU responded to Coach Bennett with 38 points of offense in the second half.
In the first four minutes of the second half, Harden took over the ball game and pushed ASU into a 39-32 lead. Casto checked into the game and checked Harden's ability to score.
By the time Thompson completed swishing his third trey on consecutive possessions, Washington State raced out ahead of ASU 41-39. The smooth, talented freshman was 7-7 from beyond the arc at that point. Best of all, the only noise heard from Sun Devil fans was a chorus of moans and groans.
It was the Cougars' turn to race ahead of ASU. They ran out to a 51-45 lead over the Sun Devils before Harden tried to carry his team on some very broad shoulders.
When Harden got away with pushing off Casto with his forearm, yet benefited from a plus-one foul shot, Coach Bennett exploded. The calm demeanor of Bennett vanished as quick as his team's lead. Fortunately the officials were too embarrassed to slap him with a technical, but Bennett's players got the message.
Time and time again this season the young guns of Washington State have not finished a game strong.
Not this time.
Not after the two losses last week.
A victory was about three minutes away when Coach Bennett put Casto back in the lineup along with Baynes.
Senior Taylor Rochestie finally made a three-point shot to help the Cougs separate from ASU.
Another stop on defense was followed by a possession where WSU ran about 30 seconds off the clock before working the ball into Baynes for a thunderous dunk.
The rest of the game was a parade to the WSU foul line. Not a bad place to be for Coach Bennett's team. They proved why they lead the Pac-10 in free throw percentage and did it in crunch time.
This win came on the heels of two losses that would have shaken most teams. Not the case with a team that knows they can earn a win over a quality opponent playing Bennett Ball.