PULLMAN — Witness the concourse outside the locker room at Beasley Coliseum, and listen to the home team, partying behind closed doors but rattling the walls with the sounds of a long-awaited victory.
These games between the Washington and Washington State men’s basketball teams are never dull. Saturday’s threatened to be. But the Cougars scored and scored and scored in the second half while the Huskies failed, and WSU left with a 72-67 victory before a season-high announced crowd of 5,796.
The Huskies (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12 Conference) left as defeated favorites, hustling to the bus that would transport them to a short flight back to Seattle.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar noted that he still thinks the Huskies are in better shape than they were a month ago, but he acknowledged the obvious.
“This is a huge opportunity missed,” Romar said as WSU’s celebratory shouts echoed through the hallway.
Instead of finishing the first half of Pac-12 play at
6-3 and tied for at least third place, the Huskies fell to 5-4 before next week’s tough trip to Utah and Colorado.
“We knew how big this game was and how it could affect us down the line, come tournament time,” senior guard C.J. Wilcox said. “It definitely stings a lot more than earlier games.”
The Cougars’ prospects aren’t as bright. At 9-12 overall and 2-7 in Pac-12 play, they would need something of a miracle to turn their record respectable. But with mostly pride to play for, WSU exhibited plenty.
The first half paced slowly, and UW led, 27-25, at halftime. Wilcox spearheaded an effort to increase that margin, scoring 10 of his game-high 24 points in the first 6:20 of the second half.
Wilcox’s 3-pointer with 13:41 to play gave the Huskies a 42-34 lead, and given how poorly the Cougars have played recently, it reasonably could have been assumed that UW would keep scoring.
Instead, the Cougars did, and the Huskies wilted. The return of leading scorer DaVonté Lacy — a Curtis High School graduate who missed WSU’s previous six games because of a rib injury — buoyed the Cougars, even though the junior guard made only two of his 10 field-goal attempts.
Still, it was Lacy who capped the game’s decisive run, scoring his first field goal — a corner 3-pointer — with 8:56 left to put the Cougars ahead, 46-42, a
12-0 run in their wake.
Washington made just one field goal during an
11-minute span in the second half and didn’t lead again. Another 7-0 run by the Cougars gave them an
11-point lead almost three minutes later.
The Huskies eventually pulled within seven, but Lacy made a big 3-pointer from the corner with 2:16 remaining. He finished with 10 points in 33 minutes.
Washington shot 52.4 percent from the field in the first half and 38.9 percent in the second.
“I’ve got to watch the film and see,” Romar said, “but I believe we missed some opportunities we could have capitalized on.”
WSU outrebounded UW, 39-36, but claimed a
14-11 edge on the offensive glass and scored 12 second-chance points.
WSU senior forward D.J. Shelton was a monster there, scoring 20 points and snagging a career-best
18 rebounds in 38 minutes.
“They got a lot of 50-50 balls that went their way,” Romar said. “Offensive rebounds, loose balls, and they capitalized on what seemed like every one of them.”
But WSU didn’t capitalize upon its late-game free-throw opportunities. The Cougars missed nine of their final 20 foul shots, including the front end of two 1-and-1 chances.
That allowed UW to claw within four points after a Nigel Williams-Goss
3-pointer with 38 seconds left, then four again when Wilcox made a 3-pointer with 22.3 seconds to play.
The Huskies didn’t get closer. The lamentations were plentiful.
“We had several defensive lapses that were unacceptable,” Romar said. “When you add those up, that’s why we couldn’t really pull away from them. They run great offensive stuff, and you have to really be dialed in, and a couple of times, we were caught worrying about our own guy as opposed to playing team defense, and they would get buckets on us.”
Enough to make UW’s flight back to Seattle feel just a little longer.