About Last Night: Cougs beat Oregon, sweep road trip

SECOND. PLACE. ALL. ALONE.

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WSU 62, Oregon 56: Quick Recap

Washington State now sits all alone in second place in the Pac-12 after a low-pace, low-scoring, workmanlike victory over Oregon — just the second road win by the Cougars over the Ducks since they opened their shiny basketball palace in 2011.

The game started back and forth, with each team feeling each other out over the first 8 minutes. But then the teams traded some small runs: First, a 6-0 spurt by WSU starting with a Jaylen Wells 3 powered the Cougs to a 7-point lead about 10 minutes in; Oregon answered back with 5 unanswered of their own to cut it back to 2; Wells again hit a 3 as WSU countered with 6 more; then each team traded a pair of buckets before Oregon closed the half strong with a 6-0 run that ended with a thunderous coast-to-coast dunk by … N’Faly Dante(?!?)1 that trimmed the Cougs’ lead all the way down to 2 at the break.

Despite all the attention paid to Wells by Oregon — Ted Robinson sort of laid the Ducks’ game plan bare on the broadcast — he had a quartet of 3s, scoring 12 of WSU’s 29 first-half points.

After more back-and-forth over the first four minutes of the second half, the Cougs finally were able to put some legitimate space between them and the Ducks: WSU outscored Oregon 16-5 over a 7-minute stretch to open up a 9-point lead with just about 10 minutes to go.

Oregon would not lead or even tie the rest of the way — every time the Ducks pushed back on WSU, the Cougs answered with points of their own, and it was the usual suspects who did the damage:

  • When Oregon hit a 3 to trim it to 3 with 8 minutes to go, Isaac Jones answered with a gorgeous little hook.

  • When Oregon hit a couple of FTs to close it to 2 points with 5 minutes left, Myles Rice hit a 3 — then followed it up with a pair of FTs on the next possession.

  • When Oregon hit a 3 to again pull within 3, Jones drew a foul on the very next possession and hit a pair of FTs.

  • When the Cougs lost their minds in the last minute and turned it over and Oregon hit another 3, Wells hit a FT, Rice came up with a fortuitous rebound on Wells’ miss on the second, and then Rice hit a pair.

Ballgame.

In A Minute

  • CougCenter recap

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Myles Rice with 21 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists.

  • One stat to tell the tale: 4:58 — that’s how long the Cougs went without a FG to end the game. Their final 8 points came at the line on 10 attempts. Clutch.

Tourney Check

Still movin’ on up! Now an 84.1% chance of making the NCAA tournament, given probable results the rest of the way:

Highlights

Three Thoughts

1. Team Toughness

As much as I love to try and quantify things, there are some things that can’t be measured. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and there is now an air of confidence about this team that we don’t see much — last year’s women’s basketball team comes to mind, as does the 2018 football squad led by Gardner Minshew.

These Cougs are unafraid of anyone, oozing confidence as they navigate the court, and I think where this is most noticeable is on offense. While the overall results yesterday weren’t spectacular — 0.97 points per possession is pretty poor!2 — there’s just something about the way in which they move through their offensive actions that shows that they know how they want to attack defenses and, if their initial actions get shut down, where they can counter to get a quality look.

Rice is attacking space — often after a ball screen or a hand-off from the center — and if that gets cut off, he’s starting a ball reversing action that often leads to a one-on-one post, and we know that Jones and Oscar Cluff are deadly in those scenarios. And teams have to be careful how they defend those, because Wells and Andrej Jakimovski will make you pay from beyond the arc.

It certainly helps that WSU has a trio of guys who can get their own buckets; that will make any offense look better. But they’re not just running a series of isolations or post-ups that are dependent on one guy making things happen. This team clearly believes there’s nothing an opponent can do to actually stop them. And that is extremely fun to watch.

2. Defensive Adjustments

Much like Thursday’s game at OSU, this one was not a work of art. But I think Kyle Smith put it best postgame:

“I feel the same way about an ugly win as bad pizza: They don’t exist. I love pizza. And I love winning.”

This one was way more of a rock fight than the first go-round; neither team cracked 1.0 points per possession yesterday after posting 1.32 and 1.24, respectively, a month ago in Pullman.

Smith chalked up the style of this one to the presence of Dante, Oregon’s big center who didn’t play in the first matchup. But I’ll go this direction: Both teams have really good coaches, and both teams came in purposing to not make the same mistakes on defense.

In the first one, the 3s were flying — the two teams combined for 42 attempts beyond the arc. But yesterday, they combined for just 30, with both teams under 30% of their overall field goal attempts from 3. That was largely due to the defenses deployed as each team forced the other to beat them in a different way.

That meant that interior defense would be paramount, and Oscar Cluff had a heck of a game. The big fella from Australia doesn’t post massive numbers on either end of the floor, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he is the glue that holds the team together.

Cluff made Dante work exceptionally hard to get what he got, particularly in the second half. After a strong first half, Dante had just 4 field goal attempts and a couple of trips to the FT line after the break. Cluff was disruptive, getting a couple of steals, and only picking up three fouls in the process — despite playing a whopping 35 minutes because of Rueben Chinyelu’s sickness, which limited him to just 2 minutes. Cluff had to make sure he stayed on the floor, and he did.

The Cougs, meanwhile scored about half of their second half points in the paint.

One other quick note: After allowing Oregon just 0.88 points per possession — the Ducks’ lowest in conference play — the Cougs are now up to third in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency in conference games. Kyle Smith, everyone!

3. Myles Rice Took That Personally

At this point, it will be a stunner if the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award doesn’t go to Rice. That said, Oregon’s Jackson Shelstad has also made a pretty good case for himself, and it sure looked yesterday like Rice wanted to make sure to erase all doubt.

From the start of the game, Rice was all over Shelstad, harassing him in much the same fashion as he did Jordan Pope on Thursday: Shelstad could only squeeze off three shots in the first half.

Shelstad wasn’t about to let that happen in the second half, so he took a bunch more shots. It didn’t work: He made just 1-of-9 after the break to finish with just 6 points on 3-of-12 shooting with zero trips to the free throw line.

Rice, meanwhile, had 21 points and 9 rebounds.

Up Next

Back home! (Play the music.)

Cal and Stanford come to Pullman this week. While there’s always a worry about a let down, I’m not that concerned. First off, while anyone can suffer a letdown, this team has shown they aren’t prone to them.

Second, you can bet they’ll want to pay back Cal for what happened in the first one.

Tip off against the Golden Bears on Thursday will be at 7 p.m. PST on Pac-12 Network. (I double checked this time!)

Footnotes

1 While I blame our players for not slowing him down at midcourt, I do not blame our players for not getting in the way once he reached the free throw line.

2 It was the lowest efficiency since Dec. 31 at Colorado, when they scored 0.99 ppp.

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