About Last Night: Huskies exact their revenge over WSU

It was one of the weirdest losses you'll ever see.

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No. 18 WSU 68, Washington 74: Quick Recap

I’m going to be honest with you for a sec: Thinking about this game is kinda depressing the hell out of me. I didn’t get to watch it live; I had to got to go to a high school band concert that was from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. so I chose radio silence to watch it on the DVR, unspoiled, when I got home. Later, Craig would say that he considered spoiling it for me to spare me, but I don’t think he could have even if he wanted to — I had it locked down tight.

About the only good thing I could say about watching that game was that at least the pain was quicker for me. I’m sorry I can’t say the same for you all. Often times, writing about disappointment helps me process disappointing sports events. I don’t know if that will be the case today, but I guess if we’re going to write about the good stuff, we should write about the bad stuff, too.

What gets me about it the most is the sheer weirdness of how it went down. It was the most anticipated home game in years, as nearly 10,000 faithful packed into Beasley Coliseum on Thursday night. The stage was set for something epic, the ultimate final home game this season as the Cougs punted their rivals and made one final claim to perhaps a share of the Pac-12 title.

What followed was their weirdest performance of the season — in the worst way imaginable.

The Cougars controlled and bullied the Huskies for the first 18 minutes of the game, using a 17-3 run over just about seven minutes to power themselves to a 10-point lead, 30-20, with about two minutes to play in the half. They weren’t shooting it great, but they owned the glass and the Huskies were impotent on offense.

At that point, the Cougars’ win probability stood at 89.8%.

It would become the one out of 10 that ends badly.

In a seeming flash, the 10-point lead vanished. The Huskies put on an astonishing 12-0 run over the final 120 seconds that started innocently enough with a foul and couple of free throws, but it snowballed from there: Isaac Jones missed a layup, Koren Johnson hit a 3, Andrej Jakimovski committed a bad turnover in backcourt that led to a quick dunk — out of a timeout, no less — then had his shot “blocked” at the rim on the next possession (it was a foul) and Washington hit a transition 3. To cap it all off, Isaiah Watts missed everything on a late-clock 3-pointer and Sahvir Wheeler hit a runner at the rim as the half ended.

As we’ve come to expect from these Cougs, the run didn’t ruin them, and it didn’t send them reeling; the teams traded leads for the first 10 minutes of the second half, with WSU getting back-to-back buckets from Jones and Myles Rice to stake out a 3-point lead with 9:23 to go.

They led for one just one more possession, as the Huskies embarked on an 11-0 run that pushed the lead to 8. The Cougs trimmed it to 3 with just under 3 minutes to go, but they never could get the critical stops necessary to get over the hump.

Pain.

In the end, WSU shot just 39% from the field, including 4-of-24 (17%) from 3 — many of the attempts wildly off the mark. They also shot just 8-of-17 from the free throw line, and 5-of-12 in the second half when the game was in the balance. On a night when the defense was plenty good enough to win (just 1.02 points allowed per possession), their shooting let them down, and I’m not sure I can recall that kind of complete failure from a team that has been so good at scoring.

The Cougars finish the regular season 23-8 overall and 14-6 in the Pac-12, cementing them in the second place spot.

In A Minute

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Isaac Jones with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists, 1 steal.

  • One stat to tell the tale: 39 — the number of points scored by WSU’s starting five. They needed 51 shots to do it. Big, big yikes.

Highlights

Tourney Check

So, this actually is about the same as where we were before the game at barttorvik.com, and the usual caveats apply — no seeding principles, accurate ±1 line, etc.

Over at bracketmatrix.com, we had ascended to the last 5 seed in the projections before the game. Probably won’t get an updated projection that reflects last night’s loss until later today.

Three Thoughts

1. Bizarro Big Three

All season long, the team has featured a fairly brilliant offense — heading into last night, they were the No. 2 Pac-12 unit on a points per possession basis during conference play. That’s largely been due to WSU’s version of the Big Three: Jones, Rice, and Jaylen Wells.

In this one, all three of them were off key, ranging from below average to just plain bad. Jones was the best of the bunch, scoring 20 but needing 17 shots to get there. He missed a handful of shots at the rim (including a baffling sequence in which he missed a layup that he then rebounded and somehow turned into a missed dunk), and was just 2-of-8 at the free throw line. He’s a 70% shooter from there.1

Rice, meanwhile, had an OK game from a statistical perspective — 8 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and zero(!) turnovers. But the lack of efficient scoring meant it only added up to a below average offensive rating, and it was far short of what we’ve come to expect from him.

Wells … man. That was rough. Really, really rough. Nine points on 13 shots, including 1 of 10 from 3.

All year long, one or more of those three has picked up the slack when one or more of them have faltered. Last night, none of them could do it. If Jones makes a dunk and four of those free throws, it’s all very different. If Wells hits a couple of those 3s that were wide open, it’s all very different. If Rice hits one of his 3s and makes a couple of more 2s instead of going 2-of-9 from the field, it’s all very different.

Instead, they combined to score just 37 points on 39 shots.2 Can’t win like that.

2. Faltering Form

I watch a ton of soccer, and a common talking point there is “form” — as in, how is the team playing recently?

The Cougars’ form has definitely dipped since the win over Arizona.

Torvik’s site tracks everyone’s recent form with a “Last 10” adjusted efficiency. Craig and I noted on the podcast that in their 10 games leading up to Arizona, WSU was playing like a top 15 team. Our last 10 now — which includes some of those games? 44th — pretty much exactly what our rating at Torvik says we are overall for the season.

A lot of that has to do with the last four games, in which WSU has played worse than a “44th” level — in a couple of instances, much, much worse. These are the Game Scores since Colorado (with ASU cropped out because it was sooo low). The dashed black line is the one that I think is most descriptive of what’s happened; that’s the 5-game rolling average, which is another way to think about form. There’s a sharp rise as the team gets its act together and goes on the long win streak, but a sharp decline since Arizona:

Is this a rough patch? A blip? Something more? I honestly don’t know, but the vibes aren’t great right now. Even the wins in the last four took a ton of effort. It was never reasonable to expect them to keep playing at the level they were during the streak, and maybe this is just the normal ebb and flow of a season. But with the postseason starting up next week, it sure doesn’t feel like a great time to be playing worse!

3. Concerns About Andrej

Andrej Jakimovski has been playing through an injury to his right shoulder for quite a while now, but it’s clear that it reached an inflection point last night. I don’t know at what point he aggravated it, but it happened some time in the first half. By the second half, he could barely lift his arm — it was often just sort of dangling from his side.

Someone asked him about it after the game. (I recommend watching it for the full effect.)

Reporter: How’s your shoulder doing? Is it hurting you at all right now?

Jakimovski: Yeah. … I don't want to make excuses and everything, but I just you know, like, I couldn't lift my arm. Um … [shakes his head for a few seconds before continuing] … that’s it. Yeah.

That’s not good in general, but it’s really not good for a guy who needs to be able to shoot with that arm! And it’s also pretty bad for a guy who we depend on pretty heavily for rebounding support.

Now, when someone is barely able to lift an arm, I’m not sure the six days between now and when we play in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals on Thursday are going to get him significantly more healthy. And I’m not totally sure what (or what not) to read into what Kyle Smith said about it after last night’s game.

“I think rest will help,” he said. “I mean, you'd probably have to ask the docs, the trainers — they know better me. I didn't stay at the Holiday Inn last night to be an expert — but, you know, I imagine something that's gonna probably nag him a little bit.”

That seems pretty cryptic to me, and deferring to doctors isn’t Smith’s usual M.O. I have to wonder if shutting him down for the Pac-12 Tournament is the best play here so that he’s ready for the NCAAs.

Up Next

Pac-12 Tournament! The Cougs are locked into the No. 2 seed after the loss, with no chance of catching Arizona anymore. That means they’ll get a bye to the quarterfinals on Thursday, where they await the winner of Wednesday’s 7-10 game.

The 7 seed is extremely up in the air — Utah, UCLA, Washington, Cal, and Arizona State all could end with 9-11 records and need tiebreakers to seed 5-9. The 10 seed could be either Stanford (in that spot now and locked in if ASU beats USC) or Arizona State or USC (a USC win over ASU creates a 3-way tie at 8-12).

I am not nearly invested enough in this to try and figure out tiebreakers. I’ll just wait for someone to tell us on Saturday night after the games end.

What I do know is this: WSU will play at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Footnotes

1 It wasn’t just Jones. The team shot 8-of-17 — 47%. On the season, they’ve shot 70%.

2 The bench had 29!

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