Washington State (12-3, 2-1) experienced déjà vu in Tucson, AZ on Friday night, as DeAngelo Casto put the ball through the net with just :00.1 seconds left in regulation. He did the very same thing last week in Pullman against Oregon at the end of overtime, but the game officials slapped the Cougars with a technical foul for celebrating on the court, leading to a second OT and eventual loss to the Ducks.
The Cougs learned their lesson.
They saved their jubilant celebration of a 78-76 victory over Arizona (7-8, 1-2) on the Wildcats home floor inside the McKale Center until after the final horn sounded at the end of the game.
This game was just what you'd expect from two talented, young college basketball teams. There was an abundance of good defense, good passing, good shooting, and competitive play from beginning to end.
Arizona struggled with their shot early on, but eventually warmed up.
Washington State struggled with turning the ball over, but played under control when it counted the most.
The 'Cats balanced offense had four players score in double figures, but WSU nearly matched them with three double digit scorers of their own.
After the game, coach Ken Bone was quick to point out how the Cougs were able to do something few visiting teams have accomplished—win in the McKale Center. "It’s nice to know that your team has the ball, hopefully for the last time, with seconds remaining," said Bone. With the score tied and the game on the line, WSU worked the ball inside for the winning layup by Casto.
As they out to an early lead in the game, WSU was able to lull the home crowd to sleep. The Cougs only allowed Arizona one run over the 40 minutes of regulation, an 11-1 streak culminating in the 'Cats first lead in the game, 27-25, with 4:23 left in the first half. At that point in the game, coach Bone took a time out, vociferously took his players to task, and took the momentum away from coach Sean Miller's team.
The team in the crimson jerseys with white trim listened to their coach, then executed at both ends of the court the rest of the way.
Though the Cougs weren't playing their best ball in the first half, the game was tied 35-35 at intermission. Coach Bone is a stickler for protecting the ball, and he watched his team turn the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes while dishing out just six assists. But down the stretch, in the final seven minutes of regulation, WSU only turned the ball over once.
After the game coach Bone said, "…to win on the road, especially in an environment like this, it takes a lot of poise. Even during tough times we seemed pretty poised."
Coach Miller was able to draw up a defensive scheme which held Klay Thompson to just 19 points, but Miller couldn't shut down the overall play of Thompson, who led the Cougs in assists for the third game in a row. Klay nearly achieved another double-double, pulling down eight boards in the contest. He had a blocked shot as well. As Cougar Radio announcer Bud Nameck would put it, Thompson showed Arizona "a little Klay-mation."
The difference in the game was freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who notched a new career-high of 20 points, tops among all scorers. Moore looked like a player possessed in the second half, driving to the hoop time after time, forcing defenders to foul him in the process.
"He became pretty determined to attack. At halftime we talked about attacking them. They’re good, but they shouldn’t be able to pressure us 35-40 feet away from the hoop and still stop us from getting into the key. I thought Reggie did a nice job of taking that challenge on, getting to the key and sometimes to the rim," said coach Ken Bone
As young as this Washington State team is, they are growing together as a team with each practice and every game.
"Sometimes you see a guy mess up in the first half and the coach doesn’t believe in him anymore. Coach (Bone) believed in me and kept the ball in my hands. All my teammates were (saying), ‘Reggie, we know you can do better.’ They just believed in me so it allowed me to believe in myself," stated WSU point guard Reggie Moore
There is no question that coach Bone has his players developing into a very competitive basketball team. A quick glance at WSU's record to start the season will make believers out of a lot of folks.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column on Examiner.com