Seattle, WA -Washington State (10-2) completed their non-conference schedule with an overtime win over a very physical LSU (8-3) team, 72-70.
The victory for coach Ken Bone's Cougars was just what they needed before beginning Pac-10 competition. Defeating a talented SEC team, one projected to be a force in that conference, should be a real boost for the confidence of this very young WSU team.
How did the Cougs do it?
One word says it all when describing the play of Washington State—teamwork.
Despite a shaky start, WSU took a 36-30 lead into the locker room at the half.
LSU coach Trent Johnson is known for favoring a deliberate style of play. That said, the game was fast paced going into the first media time out. Neither team was converting many of their shots, but the ball was moving up and down the court, a tempo favoring Washington State.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the Tigers would use their experience over the Cougs to impose their preference for deliberate play. Instead, Washington State seemed to be surprised at how many good looks they had on offense.
Midway through the first half, WSU players were neither surprised nor thinking about what to do. They were simply playing heads up with anything and everything coach Johnson and LSU tried to throw at them.
The team imposing their will was the home team Cougars in their gray uniform. Coach Bone masterfully mixed up his team's defense to confuse and befuddle LSU. He called for full court pressure early in the first half to keep the Tigers from getting into an offensive rhythm. Switching back and forth from zone to man-to-man defense once LSU brought the ball past midcourt proved to be effective as well.
As the first half began to unfold, clearly WSU is listening to their head coach and improving each and every time they take the court. To a man, the Cougs looked every bit the part of a team knowing what they were doing on both offense and defense.
The purple clad Tigers exuded confidence on the sidelines during timeouts, but as the game progressed and the whistle would sound to start play again, it was WSU who played with confidence.
One player who did stand out in the first half for WSU in the first half was Nikola Koprivica, who played inspiring basketball. The savvy senior seemed to be everywhere on defense and swished a high arching three-pointer to put the Cougs in front 29-20, their largest lead of the evening. His nine points before intermission led Washington State, while prolific scorer Klay Thompson was held to only six points.
Washington State held a halftime lead of 36-30, holding LSU to a ridiculous 10-30 shooting from the field. Don't bother with the math to work out the percentage. Just recall the days of Bennett Ball and that's all you need to know about the way coach Bone's team played defense in the opening 20 minutes.
The second half was a war on the hardwood. WSU was winning the battle until there were about three minutes left in the game, as LSU caught the Cougs at 60-60.
Coach Johnson had to feel very good about the situation. His team was holding down the high scoring Cougs well below their 80 point average. Mission accomplished? Not completely. There was the matter of winning the battle of the scoreboard.
Minutes later, when Bo Spencer put up a mid-range jumper the was nothing but net, LSU looked poised to win not just the battle, but the war.
Playing in front of a home court record crowd of 15,341 at Key Arena, the Washington State players looked to be the more experienced Division I basketball team. Support from the fans brought out the best in this team.
Poise is an appropriate adjective to describe the demeanor of coach Bone and his team. With the clock winding down, DeAngelo Casto found himself open in the lane, the ball in his hands, and the opportunity to tie the game. And yes, Casto deftly made an easy lay-up to knot the score.
Amazingly, WSU made only one basket in overtime when freshman point guard Reggie Moore drove the lane, made a lay-up, and was fouled.
Make no mistake, just because the Cougs weren't sinking shots doesn't mean they weren't taking it to LSU. They attacked the defense of LSU, providing trips to the foul line.
In the end, coach Johnson wanted no part of a second overtime period with the scrappy Cougs. Coach Bone called timeout with 8.2 seconds left to set up his defense. Johnson told his troops they were going for the win by putting the ball in the hands of Spencer to take a three-point shot.
It was a sound decision for a number of reasons. Two of his key players, Storm Warren and Aaron Dotson fouled out and the rest of his squad was visibly fatigued. Spencer was enjoying freedom outside by WSU defenders because he was 2-10 from behind the arc. Johnson rolled the dice and crapped out.
Christmas arrived early this year for Cougar Nation. Coach Bone and his team delivered a quality win to remain undefeated in Cougar Hardwood Classic play.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU sports column on Examiner.com