By Christian Caple The News Tribune
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 Washington and Washington State’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 here with a 72-67 victory before a season-high crowd of 5,796.
The Huskies (13-9, 5-4 in Pac-12) 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. They are. But he acknowledged the obvious.
“This is a huge opportunity missed,” Romar said, WSU’s celebratory shouts echoing 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 fall to 5-4 with a tough road trip to Utah and Colorado awaiting next week.
“We knew how big this game was and how it could affect us down the line, come tournament time,” said senior guard C.J. Wilcox. “It definitely stings a lot more than earlier games.”
The Cougars’ prospects aren’t as bright. They improved to 2-7 in conference play and would need something like 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 half. A 3-pointer with 13:41 to play gave the Huskies a 42-34 lead, and given how poorly the Cougars have played recently, a reasonable assumption could have been made that UW would only keep scoring.
Instead, the Cougars did, and the Huskies wilted. The return of junior guard and leading scorer DaVonte Lacy — a Curtis High grad who missed WSU’s last six games with a rib injury — buoyed the Cougars, even though Lacy 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 to play 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 nearly three minutes later. Lacy also made a big 3-pointer from the corner with 2:16 remaining, extending WSU’s lead back to 10 points after the Huskies had trimmed it to seven.
The Huskies 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.”
Meanwhile, Romar said, it seemed the Cougars capitalized on every chance — and second chance — they created. WSU outrebounded UW 39-36, but claimed a 14-11 edge on the offensive glass and scored 12 second-chance points.
WSU (9-12, 2-7) senior forward D.J. Shelton was a monster there. He scored 20 points and snagged 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.”
What WSU didn’t capitalize upon, however, was 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, then four again when Wilcox made a 3-pointer with 22.3 seconds to play.
They 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.