Up 50-31 with 15:14 to go in the second half, Washington appeared set for the second round. The Huskies were dunking, driving and stopping Washington State.
Some old adages were at work. Difficult to beat your rival. Difficult to beat a team three times in a season. So on and so forth.
When Royce Woolridge drove past Scott Suggs to tie the game 62-62, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar was calm in the huddle, according to his players. Though, Romar contends he was going crazy on the inside.
"Just call me Denzel, because that was a great acting job" Romar said.
It was fitting for a play that almost became a tragedy before Washington won 64-62.
Washington's failure to hold its expansive lead turned the final two minutes into a possession-by-possession game, a dangerous prospect when the other team has a lethal scorer like Brock Motum (28 points). Desmond Simmons became the unlikely owner of the game-winning basket when he dove and Abdul Gaddy (11 assists, two turnovers, two questionable 3-pointers attempted late in the game) , hit him on the dive following a pick. Simmons almost always pops after setting a pick.
"I told Gaddy in the timeout, I was going to dive instead of my usual pick-and-pop. In case the shooters were open, I didn't want to clog it up," Simmons said.
He spun and put the ball just over the front of the rim. That was the last field goal and came with 1:16 to go in the game.
Washington forced a turnover on WSU's next possession, then Gaddy shot a deep 3-pointer that didn't go in. Down two, Washington State came out of a timeout and Motum shot a 3-pointer. Washington had a small group on the floor at the time -- Simmons was the "center" -- and Scott Suggs was on Motum to start the possession.
Andrew Andrews switched on to him and Motum leaned in to him on a 3-point attempt that was well off. Motum was looking for a foul.
"I thought he reached in and I shot a three.," Motum said. "I thought I drew a foul. I heaved it up there trying to get three shots. The referees didn’t call it or they didn’t see it and they got the rebound."
Motum was trying to get a 3 up and looking for a foul, he said.
"I think it was a bit of both," Motum said. "I think regardless there was contact and if there’s contact on the shooter there should be three shots. But that’s out of my hands. The referees reffed a good game. they’re going to miss some things. I thought it was a foul but they thought it wasn’t and that’s just how the game goes."
Also interesting and much debated right after the game: The Huskies choosing to throw a long inbounds pass with 2.7 to go from their own baseline.
After initially trying to inbound with Gaddy taking the ball out and 6-foot-10 D.J. Shelton guarding the pass, Washington called timeout. It switched Simmons to be the inbounder and threw long to C.J. Wilcox.
Wilcox cut hard and sprinted to the far end. He got his fingertips on the ball, then was able to pull it in and dribble out the clock. The pass was almost too far. If Wilcox hadn't touched it and the ball went out, the Cougars would have the ball under their own hoop down two with 2.7 to go.
But, it worked. Washington dragged the win out of the muck after being in control.
“Up 19, you just have to keep playing," Gaddy said. "It’s the hardest thing when you’re up 20 and you have so much time left. You get in this chill mode. I tried to tell the guys to keep playing and they got hot. When they tied the game, the main thing was to calm ourselves and get the best shot available. Coach calmed everyone down and drew up a play. He was confident in us.”
As for WSU, much credit for not folding when down 19. The Cougars rode Motum, Shelton and Woolridge back into the game. They also used a strong ball-screen trap to get going. Cougars head coach Ken Bone went with multiple defenses Wednesday night to try to slow the Huskies.
"The second half we played with a lot more energy," Woolridge said. "We played with a lot of heart in the second half. We felt like we could win the game, regardless if we were down by (19). We just never gave up. We kept fighting."
Some quick notes, quotes and thoughts:
> Gaddy shot two questionable 3s at the end of an otherwise exquisite game for him. One was because Shawn Kemp Jr. ran a play wrong, leaving Gaddy with the ball late in the clock and little choice. The second, up two with 21 seconds to go, was a bad shot. But, Gaddy finished with 11 assists and two turnovers. He added none points on 4 for 10 from the field. He outplayed Woolridge most of the night.
> Can't say enough about Motum battling. He was 11 for 19 for 28 points. He had just one board and three turnovers (two were offensive fouls for illegal screens). If Washington had lost, it would have been because Motum kept the Cougars in the game during many dead spots.
> Only four players scored for Washington State. Motum had 28, D.J. Shelton 19 and Woolridge 12. Will DiLorio hit a 3. That was it.
> 19 points for Scott Suggs, who remains hot. He was 6 for 8 from the field and had 13 at the half. He had one rebound in 35 minutes.
> Washington with just 11 turnovers. That's a good number for it. The season-low is seven.
> Wilcox still can't find it. He was 3 for 11 from the field and 2 for 6 from 3. He had 11 points and only one rebound in 33 minutes.
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A proud native of Longview, Wash., Christian Caple joins The News Tribune after covering Washington State football and men's basketball for two years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane (though he lived in Pullman). He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Washington, an avid NWAACC basketball fan, and is unsure how to proceed now that Breaking Bad is over.