The WSU football team was so bad this season that it never had a chance to pull off one of those gut-wrenching, how-did-they-do-that, come-from-ahead losses that we all know as Couging It.
Not to fear, though, because the Cougar basketball team is here.
In its first real test of the season, Ken Bone’s squad pulled off the prototypical Coug It against Gonzaga on Wednesday night, turning a 15-point, first-half lead into a 74-69 loss.
In a single game, the sophomoric (and freshmany) Cougs showed just who they are and who they eventually will become.
In the first half, they were surprisingly dominant, building a 15-point lead at one point and heading into halftime up 39-27. They did it with the trademark defense they developed under Tony Bennett and have maintained thanks to the return of defensive assistant coach Ben Johnson; Gonzaga shot just 36 percent in the first half.
It was a commanding performance on the floor of a good opponent that showed exactly what the Cougars can become under Bone. Eventually.
But the game flipped in the second half as the Cougars showed who they are right now—an incredibly young team with only one senior and 14 players in just their first or second seasons.
Their young defense melted under the intensity of the Zags’ aggressive attack as Ellis Harris and Matt Bouldin combined for 35 of the Zags’ 47 second-half points. Harris scored 21 of his 24 in the last half, and Bouldin had 14 of his career-high 28 (seven three-pointers).
WSU's offense, meanwhile, did not score a field goal for 10 minutes in the second half.
Sophomore Klay Thompson, who was leading the nation in scoring at 28 points per game, looked like he did at the end of last season, when he disappeared in the Cougars’ biggest games.
Thompson led the Cougs with 15 points, but it was hard to remember any of them as he made just six of 21 shots, went 0-for-4 from three-point range, and missed four of his seven free throws.
You have to hope this doesn’t become a trend, where the streaky-shooting Thompson always has his bad games in the big games. Let’s hope we don’t see Klaynk very often.
The loss to the 17th-ranked Zags was incredibly disappointing, particularly considering how well WSU played in the first half. In one half, the Cougs went from possible top 25 team back to the developing basketball nation they are.
As Bone said, it was a simple sign of youth that they let it get away. They admittedly lost their focus and became intimidated by the crowd at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are now 65-3 since it opened in 2004.
As WSU freshman Reggie Moore told reporters, “Some of our guys thought the game was won already.”
It’s a valuable lesson for Bone’s first team, and that’s really what this season will be all about: gaining experience and building toward the next couple of years, when the Cougars will be legitimate Pac-10 contenders and should find themselves in the NCAA tournament in 2011 and 2012— and hopefully beyond.
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