What A Night

Washington State 76, Washington 73 (2 OT)

In their final home game, Washington State’s seniors didn’t disappoint.

Kyle Weaver led all scorers with 20, Derrick Low added 16, and Robbie Cowgill hit clutch shots down the stretch to finish with 10 as the Cougars won their seventh straight game over rival Washington.

“It was just two teams going at it really hard,” Derrick Low said after the game. “It just feels good to pull the win off for our senior night. It just made it all the more special.”

Hard may have been an understatement. The normally mistake-free Cougars had 15 turnovers against a tenacious Husky defense. The huskies turned it over 19 times on the other side. WSU still managed to shoot 45.5% from the field and had four scorers in double figures, including Taylor Rochestie who had 8 in the extra sessions.

The Cougars honored their five outgoing seniors before the game, with Dick Bennett and Ivory Clark in attendance. Many of the seniors had both parents cheering them on.

Despite the emotion of senior night and the brewing thoughts over the seniors’ place in WSU history, the game made sure it was the story.

Washington opened up an early 7-2 lead against an all-senior WSU starting lineup that looked out of place on offense. Chris Henry and Jeremy Cross were replaced during the ensuing 11-2 run for the Cougars that gave WSU one of the many temporary leads held by both teams. It was a bad night on the boards for Wazzu, who were outrebounded 47-29 and took seven fewer shots than the Huskies.

Still, the Cougs jumped out to a 30-26 halftime lead and controlled most of the second half until a 12-4 run sparked by eight free throws gave the Dawgs a 54-52 lead with 3:32 remaining. Quincy Pondexter made a spectacular dunk off of an errant inbound pass to extend the lead to 58-54 with 1:55 to play. It was the last time the huskies scored in regulation.

Down 58-56, Robbie Cowgill made a layup and drew a foul from Jon Brockman with 14 seconds left. He missed the free throw. Washington never got a shot off on the ensuing possession, with Justin Dentmon turning the ball over on the dribble. Kyle Weaver broke away from the steal uncontested, but missed a desperation runner in the lane as time expired.

Taylor Rochestie was electric in the first overtime. He hit two three-pointers to erase two Husky leads en route to a 64-64 tie. The huskies took a 2-point lead on a Brockman free throw with 32 seconds remaining. Rochestie then tried another three on the next posession, but missed and the rebound ultimately fell to an unguarded Robbie Cowgill for an easy layup off the glass with 5 seconds left. Washington failed to get a shot off before the next buzzer.

Wazzu opened up a four point lead in the second OT before a Ryan Appleby three. The Cougs later extended it back to a four point lead when Venoy Overton fouled Rochestie on an attempted steal. Taylor made both shots for a 6 point lead. Appleby then hit his second of two threes in the second overtime, and the Cougs’ final offensive possession failed to net any points. However, WSU got two men to contest Appleby’s final 3-point attempt with 4 seconds left which rimmed out and secured a Cougar win.

WSU finishes the regular season 23-7 (11-7 in conference) and finishes in 3rd place in the Pac-10. Washington fell to 16-15 (7-11). They finish 8th.

——-

The seniors left Friel Court to a standing ovation. Signs were waived and a chant of “Thank You Seniors” radiated from the student section. Dick Bennett cheered with a towel draped around his neck to control the sweat and the nerves of the Cougars second straight 2OT game on senior night. It won’t be the last time Dick watches the Cougs this year, as I talked to Anne Bennett at my work who mentioned that she and Dick will be attending the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles.

Big shot Rob – Robbie Cowgill came up clutch in his last game at Friel Court. He was consistent, too: Cowgill had a big shot in regulation, OT and the second OT. His lay-in against Brockman tied the game in regulation and gave the Cougars a chance at the lead with his free throw. In the first OT his rebound and lay-in tied the game once more and forced the second extra period. In the second OT a classic Cowgill jump shot gave the Cougs a 73-70 lead. The huskies would never get closer than three.

Taylor Rochestie is Clutch – but what else is new? The junior had 8 points in overtime, including two game-tying threes and two free throws in the second OT that ensured the best the huskies could do was force a 3rd overtime. Rochestie is what the Cougs desperately needed in the first two years of Dick Bennett’s tenure – a player who wants the ball in his hands in critical situations and then makes good on his agressiveness by shooting, drawing a foul, or making the assist.

Credit the Husky defense with a spectacular performance that forced 15 Cougar turnovers, the most for WSU this season in conference play. Their highest turnover total this year in all games was 17 against Portland State. On offense Jon Brockman led the huskies with 17, Appleby added 16 (including 4 of 10 from three), and Quincy Pondexter contributed with 12.

The Mathup We Always Wanted….? – By beating UW the Cougs secured a 3 seed in next week’s Pacific 10 tournament. The 6 seed with be Oregon who defeated Arizona later Saturday night. WSU swept the season series with Oregon, however they were the first wins either Bennett had achieved against the Ducks. Both games were competitive with the Cougs pulling away in the final minutes. The Pac-10 tournament should be fun to watch; the conference essentially rolls 9 teams deep. In most leagues Cal and Washington are at the least bubble teams. Cal finishes in ninth and may have the conference player of the year in Ryan Anderson.

Here are the matchups:

7 Arizona vs. 10 Oregon State – If Arizona really wants to miss the tournament they can seal the deal by losing to the first winless team in Pac-10 conference play history. U of A finishes 8-10 in the conference but lucked out by getting a matchup that virtually guarantees another win and may make the Wildcats the first below .500 team in conference play to make the tourney. If I’m the selection committee, right now, I keep them out. They should really try to get at least 2 wins this week to secure a bid.

9 California vs 8 Washinton – These two teams would likely win any mid-major conference in the nation. But in this conference, this year, they need four consecutive wins to get a trip to the dance. Will Brockman be healthy for the tournament? (By the way, nice ovation from the WSU crowd when Jon walked off the court) Winner gets UCLA. Yay?

Quarterfinals:

1 UCLA vs 8/9 Winner

2 Stanford vs 7/10 Winner

3 Washington State vs 6 Oregon – see above. Maarty Leunen is the key in this one. UO is the defending P10 tourney champion, and will be desperate to try to get in the Big Dance.

4 USC vs 5 Arizona State – in my estimation ASU hasn’t done enough yet to make the tournament. They need this one more than the hometown Trojans who secured a bid with yesterday’s win over Stanford. Can the committee take Arizona but not ASU, who beat them twice? They shouldn’t, but ASU’s RPI and SOS are awful.

Are Pac-10 Refs Finally Being Exposed? Last night’s controversial Cal/UCLA finish has turned heads of the national media to some questionable conference officiating. With a 80-79 lead in hand and time running down, Cal’s Ryan Anderson was clearly fouled, but no call was made, and the ball went out of bounds to the Bruins. “They clearly tackled me, maybe hit me and I fell to the ground looking for the foul and it didn’t go our way,” said Anderson afterwards. Josh Shipp then hit a circus shot over the backboard to give UCLA a one-point win. However, when the ball crosses the backboard from any direction, it is out of bounds by rule. The Pac-10 made the statement that it went “over the corner” of the backboard and therefore the shot was good.

SportsCenter highlighted the controversy on ESPN, then flashed back to Thursday when the same UCLA team got the benefit of a late foul call on a Lawrence Hill block that was clearly all ball.

It is easy to get disgusted by the refs while in the ZZU CRU. There are few, if any, instant replays (and when there is it may not be visible depending on the seat) , and the bias in the home crowd makes it a comfortable environment to yell at the men in stripes. Despite the bias, I feel officiating is becoming a nationwide problem. WCC refs call way too many offensive fouls. The Big East ruined a Georgetown/Villanova game with a ticky-tack call. The Pac-10 has had numerous breakdowns at Friel, including an Arizona game in 2004 that led to an apology, and missing a clear travel by Oregon’s Aaron Brooks prior to a game winning shot by the Ducks in 2006. Last night the biggest beef I had with the refs involved Quincy Pondexter on two occasions – a foul on Weaver that was borderline intentional, and a clear hanging-on-the-rim technical foul that was never called in a close game.

How can we make the system better? Here are some quick suggestions:
-Let the officials explain themselves after the game. Explain the calls, the reasoning, and admit to mistakes afterwards. After all, refs are human. It’s easy to forget this in a rabid crowd.
-Along those lines, put bios of the refs in the game program. You don’t have to put in pictures or anything else that might make individual refs more identifiable. But, as a fan, am I going to yell “f*** you” to a guy with 2 children? To a guy who volunteers frequently at a local food bank? To a guy who has 5 grandchildren and has been married for 30 years? Make the refs human. Right now they seem little more than guys in striped shirts who are there for student sections to scream at.
-Accountability. Penalize refs for making mistakes, especially at critical points in the game. Make sure the best officiating crews get rewarded with the highest-profile games and games in the conference or NCAA tournament. Give refs bonuses for good performances and good calls in close situations. Some of these practices are already in place, but they need to be emphasized.
-Let them play. What would you have rather seen last night: a game where Brockman and Baynes are unavailable for either OT because of five fouls, or a game where both teams can play the majority of their starters right down to the final buzzer? Exactly. Five fouls are not much – it is too easy for a player to pick up 2 quick first half fouls and then disappear for 15 minutes or so prior to halftime. Either increase the number of fouls allowed to 6, or be a little more lenient with calls that could go either way. Just remember to make the obvious calls and let the players decide the game.

Thanks again seniors, Tony, and Dick Bennett. It was a fitting end to an great five years of Cougar Basketball at Friel. Looking forward to the next five.

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