About Last Night: Cougs give away P12 tournament semis to Buffs

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No. 2 WSU 52, No. 3 Colorado 58: Quick Recap

The Cougars will not be playing for the final Pac-12 Tournament championship today after finding a new way to lose during a frustrating string of weeks in which they have failed to seize opportunities to stand atop the conference.

As expected, this one was a battle, with two physical teams taking it to each other in the interior at an incredibly deliberate pace. Neither team could wrest control from each other in the first half, with WSU leading by 3 early but Colorado leading by 4 at the break; the 27-23 score harkened back to a bygone era of basketball.

Colorado surged after the break, leading by 9 with just under 13 minutes to go. But the Cougs, as they have done all season, battled back, led by Isaac Jones and — of all people — Kymany Houinsou. Jones scored 8 and Houinsou had 4 in a 15-6 run that tied it up with 6:14 to go. A few minutes later, a Jones bucket gave WSU its first lead since midway through the first half.

They would score just one more basket, missing three shots and turning it over three times on the final seven possessions.


In A Minute

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Jaylen Wells with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal — but two uncharacteristic turnovers.

  • One stat to tell the tale: 31.1% — the rate at which the Cougars turned the ball over on their offensive possessions. It was by far a season high.


Tourney Check


I don’t think we are a 9 seed. I do think a 7 is our best case scenario now.

Three Thoughts

1. Beating Ourselves … Again

Broadcaster Jason Benetti kept saying that the turnovers were uncharacteristic for WSU, and I kept thinking to myself: Dude, this has been a problem off and on for a month. Now, they looked like they had gotten it cleaned up; their last three games were under 17%, and with Colorado not having taken the ball away on more than 20% of an opponent’s possessions since mid-January, there was no reason to expect a turnover issue in this one.

Somehow, the Cougs made it one. Turning it over 19 times in a 61-possession game is mind blowing. That’s nearly one in three possessions that ends with no chance for a make, foul, or offensive rebound. Half of those were of the live-ball variety, the very worst kind because they lead to transition opportunities that are super tough to defend.

Just like the loss to Washington, it wasn’t anything that Colorado was doing particularly well. If we wanted to be generous, we could credit the Buffs with playing physically and making WSU uncomfortable, leading to hurried passes and decisions. But Colorado wasn’t doing anything more than, say, USC did to us, and we only turned it over 16% against the Trojans.

The passes — even the completed ones — were just … bad. It had the feeling of a team that was tight in a big moment, which is not what we’ve grown used to. Not a great time to be having a crisis of confidence.

2. Less-Than-Mediocre Myles

The turnover-er in chief was Myles Rice, who coughed it up five times. We’ve gotten used to him giving the ball away — I think at this point it’s just kind of part of the package — but we’ve also gotten used to his other offensive contributions making up for it.

Last night, he played 37 minutes, used 26% of WSU’s offensive possessions, and had an offensive rating of 67 — meaning that, on the possessions that ended with an action by him, he was about 0.5 points per possession worse than the average college basketball player. In addition to the turnovers, he was 4-of-13 from the field — once again going 0-fer from 3 — with just 2 free throws and 2 assists.

Frankly, it’s almost impossible to win when your lead player does that.

There was one particularly maddening sequence midway through the second half in which he got a steal, led a 3-on-1, and tried a completely unnecessary behind-the-back pass … which he botched. It led to a fast break the other way, and to his credit, he hustled back, but he banged the backboard on the layup and got charged with a goaltend. He did get bailed out a little bit when the goaltend was reversed on review, but still — a simple pass, and WSU scores, and they pull within 1.

What frustrated me the most about it was that Kyle Smith continued to leave Rice out there. Against Arizona in Tucson, he put Rice on the bench for the stretch. Leaving him in caused so many problems last night — beyond the turnovers, Colorado only had to defend two shooters, which gummed up the works in the post. Isaiah Watts has hit a rough patch, but at least in playing him, you’ve got the threat of a shooter on the floor, and having that third shooter is massive for spacing purposes.

I can only assume Smith left Rice in because he was doing a pretty solid job on KJ Simpson, and I don’t want to diminish that too much. But Smith took a calculated gamble that Rice would figure it out, and he couldn’t. It wasn’t for lack of trying — Rice plays so hard, and has a competitor’s spirit. But sometimes that competitor’s spirit can lead a guy to press and try too hard. That’s what happened last night.

3. Dominant Defense

If you’re looking for a positive, it’s this: Lost in the atrocious offensive performance is that the Cougs were equally incredible on defense. Barttorvik.com posts game-by-game adjusted metrics, and the Cougs held Colorado to an adjusted 0.85 points per possession. In terms of raw numbers, Colorado’s 0.96 ppp was its fourth lowest of the season, and lowest since early February. The Buffs have been on a heater, having not scored fewer than 1.12 in a month.

Simpson — who had averaged 29.5 points in the two previous contests against us — scored just 16 with 3 assists. The Cougs did an incredible job keeping him away from the basket, and Rice does deserve a ton of the credit for that.

The thing I found most fascinating was that Smith went with “small” ball throughout most of the second half, playing Jones at center and Kymany at the 2. We haven’t done that with any regularity during the second half of the season, but it was masterful last night.

Honestly, it was only the defense that kept us in the game. And with the NCAA tournament coming up, the saying “defense travels” hopefully applies.

Up Next

Selection Sunday. 3 p.m. PT. CBS.

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