Thursday night, Washington State hosted a streaking Arizona (18-10, 8-7) team in Pullman, WA. When the two teams met in Tucson a few weeks back, the Wildcats used their experience to mount a comeback in the second half, taking the game and win away from WSU.
Washington State (15-13, 7-9) continues to mature.
Coach Tony Bennett had the answers to settle his young guns down after a shaky start and earn a decisive victory 69-53.
In a complete reversal of roles, it was WSU who found themselves down at intermission, 29-26.
Washington State trailed the entire first half.
With just five minutes left in the opening stanza, Coach Russ Pennell was feeling comfortable with an 11-point lead.
The next five minutes belonged to the young guns of WSU. They went on a 10-2 run, setting the stage for a near flawless second half.
Coach Bennett's team was doing a lot of nice things in the first half. They had just one problem: Open shots were not falling.
Arizona's big three, Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill, were the only 'Cats to score in the first half.
Wise led all scorers at intermission with 15 points. His speed was getting him all the open shots he wanted.
Momentum is a significant factor in sports, especially basketball. Big Mo was with the Cougs going into halftime after residing with Arizona for the first 15 minutes of this contest.
There was only one adjustment for Coach Bennett to make for the second half of play. Someone had to slow down lightning-quick Nic.
Freshman Marcus Capers was told to play Wise man-to-man and cover him like a blanket.
Coach Bennett didn't have much else to adjust. His team simply had to keep playing smart Bennett Ball as they did over the course of the first 20 minutes.
After struggling with just 3-13 three-pointers made to begin the game, senior Taylor Rochestie and freshman Klay Thompson rained in bombs from behind the arc, converting 6-9 shots. Thompson's four treys give him 62 on the season, tying the WSU record for a freshman.
Capers, Thompson, and fellow freshman DeAngelo Casto played solid, confident basketball the entire second half. Nothing was going to shake them in front of their wild fans, the Zzu Cru.
Coach Pennell tried what has been effective of late, pressuring the Cougs when they bring the ball up court. It was evident that Coach Bennett worked his troops overtime to prepare for such a move. That didn't work.
It was the 'Cats who cracked under pressure. With Capers shutting down Wise, Arizona was left with just Budinger and Hill for offense. WSU collapsed on Hill if the ball went inside. Budinger couldn't find an open shot under the smothering defense from the Cougs.
In another smart coaching move, WSU took the ball inside to Casto after Hill picked up his third foul. Suddenly Casto was the focal point of the Cougar offense and looked very comfortable in the role. He responded with a career-high 11 points for the game after making just one bucket in the first half.
WSU had balanced scoring. Rochestie led the way with 17. Thompson added 16, finishing 6-11 from the field. Klay now holds the WSU freshman scoring record with 368 points. Senior Caleb Forrest followed with 15, going 9-9 from the free throw line due to his strong play around the paint.
That's right, Cougar Nation. Four Cougs scored in double figures. That is the second straight double-digit game for Rochestie, Thompson, and Forrest.
Can't describe this game without pointing out the difference maker for Washington State.
Bennett Ball was the winning formula for the Cougs. They held the high-flying Wildcats to just 53 points. Anytime a team does that, they are virtually assured a victory.
By snuffing out the hot shooting of Arizona, WSU was able to transition into their offense with ease. Casto led the way with another blocked shot to establish a new WSU season record.
That's what puts smiles on the Washington State coaching staff.
Washington State is maturing at just the right time. They've scored 65+ points in back-to-back games for just the second time this season and the first in Pac-10 play.
It's not too late for them to earn their way into the postseason. But those stats, records, and possibilities are of little interest to Coach Bennett and his young guns.
Next up for WSU is yet another nationally ranked opponent.
The game Saturday afternoon—that's what is important to the Cougar basketball team. A mature group knows that fact.