About Last Night: Cougs drop a shootout to Oregon

This one hurts pretty bad.

Good afternoon! As time allows for the rest of this season, I’ll whip up some quick thoughts on the previous night’s game. I missed Oregon State while I was in Disneyland, but I did catch last night’s game on the plane ride home. Thanks, T-Mobile and Alaska Airlines!

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The Cougs fell to 10-5 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12 in one of the more remarkable losses to Oregon you will ever see — and I say that with the full knowledge that we have had a number of remarkable losses to Oregon over the years.

The Ducks were hot from the tip, shooting an absurd 7-of-11 (64%) from beyond the arc and 11-of-15 (73%) from inside it in the first half. Some of that was bad defense, but much of it was just insane shooting. However, WSU was up for the challenge: The Cougs weathered the early storm that put them in a nine-point hole to take a two-point lead with about six minutes to play in the half. Oregon responded with another hot shooting run to stretch the lead to five at the break, which sounds bad, but honestly was a pretty good result for WSU, all things considered.

As you might expect, the Ducks cooled off a bit in the second half, but not much. The Cougs continued to battle, walking the lead — which reached as high as 12 with 7:29 to go — down to just four on an Isaiah Watts layup with about three minutes to play.

But Oregon was able to hit a pair of threes at critical times to hold the Cougars at bay. Following that Watts layup, the Cougs put together a tremendous defensive possession that ended with a desperation three attempt from Kario Oquendo with the shot clock expiring. He banked it in.

The second came with under a minute to play. The Cougs followed up Oquendo’s miracle with an Andrej Jakimovski three and a Myles Rice jumper to cut the lead to just two. Once again, the Cougs put together a spirited defensive possession, but this time the zone broke down at precisely the wrong time as Jakimovski inexplicably backed off a shooter with the shot clock winding down, and Jadrian Tracey — who hadn’t shot a three all night — buried it to make it a two-possession game with 40 seconds to play.

The Cougs came up empty on their next possession despite multiple bites at the apple, and WSU’s fate was sealed.

In A Minute

Three Thoughts

1. Already slipping away?

I try real hard not to overreact to any singular result, but man — this loss sure feels like one that could be a bit of a tipping point.

When I wrote up various paths to the tournament for the Cougars, each one assumed a win against the Ducks yesterday. Not that the game was a must-win or something, but if you don’t win that one at home, you’re just putting yourself in a hole that you have to dig out of. A good way to think about it is represented by the stat Wins Above Bubble, which compares a team’s record to how a theoretical bubble team would have performed against that team’s schedule.

After moving to 8-1 with a win over Grambling, the Cougs were essentially bubble “neutral” at +0.1 wins. In losing four of the next six, they’ve slipped to -1.4 wins — or 1.4 wins behind the pace of a bubble team, 92nd nationally. A win at USC this week would more or less offset that, but you’re now in the territory where offsets aren’t enough and you’ll either need big, unexpected wins or a string of victories in your coin flip games.

Lose to USC and you’re two full wins behind bubble pace. Not ideal!

2. Bad defense or great shooting?

Both, I guess? Once again, WSU started out in man, and when it ran into some problems, turned to the zone, which Kyle Smith explained as a way to counter Oregon’s small-ball personnel with their own preferred lineup of bigger interior players.

“We didn’t stop them either way,” he said. “The one downside, I think we did give up less threes in man, but it was a blood letting. We were searching.”

Indeed, Oregon scored 1.32 points per possession, the most by a WSU opponent since UCLA scored 1.35 three years ago. It was a truly putrid result, and while it wasn’t totally deserved, it was mostly reflective of the reality of the defensive performance.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Smith more frustrated than he is in this clip. Normally he maintains a bit of levity, even in the face of disappointment, but you can tell that being unable to come up with answers defensively is really eating away at him.

I have a tendency to harp on the badness of the zone, so I’ll spare you most of that here, but I’ll say this: I find Smith’s comments above about why they went to zone pretty annoying and sorta dishonest. When asked about the zone, Smith always cites some sort of external factor — foul trouble, matchups, preventing penetration … whatever — that led him to switch to it.

What I cannot recall him ever saying is the actual truth, “I like the zone, I believe in it, and I think it’s a good defense for us.” I know that’s the actual truth because there’s no way a coach goes to something this much unless he believes in it.

Why not just be honest? I think deep down he does know how bad it is, which is why he repeatedly twists himself into a pretzel trying to explain it.

He’s not wrong that man was bad also. But maybe that comes from dividing the team’s attention between different defenses? Not that players are incapable of doing more than one thing, but practice time is limited, and every minute you’re drilling the zone is a minute you’re not drilling man, and vice versa. I personally hate zone, but I’d actually be happier if we just played it 90% of the time and got as good at it as possible. I’m tired of watching players look lost and do dumb things out of both of these sets.

3. Welcome back, Andrej

The rule of thumb for any sports writer is that when you call out a player, they will inevitably make you look stupid. It has been three games since I pointed out Jakimovski’s shooting woes. In the three games since, he’s averaged 15.7 points (scoring in double figures in all of them) and shot 11-of-20 (55%) from behind the arc.

I feel very foolish. It’s awesome.

Up Next

The Cougs travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday for just a solo game against USC. The Trojans just finished a sweep of the Bay Area schools and find themselves in even worse shape than WSU in relation to the NCAAs.

They also have DJ Rodman.

Game tips off at 7:30 p.m. PST on FS1.

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