Oregon St.'s Jared Cunningham and Washington St.'s Marcus Capers battle for a loose ball. The Beavers actually got to more loose balls than the Cougars, but the Cougars out-shot the Beavers, and got the 5 point win. (AP Photo)
Final Score: Washington St. 81 Oregon St. 76
Washington St. got the early momentum when Brock Motum started fast, scoring the Cougar's first 9 points, and rode their early lead all the way to the end, when another dose of Motum made it impossible for Oregon St. to ever completely overcome a slow start. For the second game in a row, the Beavers rallied from a double digit deficit to get within a basket, but never got over the hump, and as a result, the Cougars achieved a split of the opening weekend of the Pac-12 season, and Oregon St. will limp home 0-2 in the conference race.
Washington St. coach Ken Bone crossed up Oregon St. and the Cougars' recent tendencies by going with a zone defense, and it was a good move. The Beavers were slow to adjust, and only began to make serious and lasting inroads into the Cougars' control of the game well into the second half.
The New Year's Eve game, which was moved from Pullman to the Spokane Arena, drew a decent crowd, but while totally partisan, was no where near as distracting as a typical game on the Washington St. campus. So both Bone's surprise move and Oregon St.'s struggles to make three pointers were magnified in importance.
After three early 2 point Beaver leads, the Washington St. zone resulted in multiple Oregon St. turnovers, and an early 18-9 deficit, before Ahmad Starks's steal and lob to Jared Cunningham for the day's addition to his highlight video.
Washington St. reopened the lead as large as 9 points, before back to back baskets by Cunningham, the second a 3 pointer, sparked an Oregon St. rally.
The Beavers tied it 1:20 before halftime on a Starks 3 pointer, but a 5-0 Cougar run gave Washington St. a 40-35 halftime lead. Bounces weren't going Oregon St.'s way, including in this case, as Eric Moreland blocked Mike Ladd's near point blank shot, but the ball caromed right to D.J. Shelton for the putback plus a free throw.
The deficit was still not too bad for Oregon St., considering Washington St. shot 55% from the field in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, the Cougars didn't cool off that much after the break, and opened 10 point leads twice before reaching the midway mark in the second half.
Washington St. was able to break down Oregon St.'s man to mad defense surprisingly well for much of the game, and seemed to be playing with better court awareness. You could see what the Beavers were thinking much of the time, but while the concepts were sound, the execution wasn't always so good, and positioning was often the cause.
A switch to the 1-3-1 zone might have been a good counter to Washington St.'s ability to drive the ball, but the tactic was never tried.
Oregon St. finally seemed to get a better feel for the game in the last quarter of it, and got withing 5 points on Moreland's layup on a feed from Cunningham, but consecutive free throws by Motum and a 3 point basket by DaVonte Lacy re-opened the Washington St. lead to 10 points, and eventually 11 twice, and as late as with just over 5 minutes left.
Back to back 3 pointers by Starks started another Oregon St. rally, and the Beavers got within 3 twice, but Motum answered both times, the second time with a 3 pointer, with less than 3 minutes to go.
Oregon St. over-collapsed everyone in attempt to rebound a Lacy miss, and Motum simply followed the play for the follow basket that gave him his game high 26 points, and Washington St. a 7 point lead with 1:40 to go.
The Beavers again fought back, getting within 4 points on Roberto Nelson's three pointer with a minute left, and after a pair of free throws by the Cougars' Reggie Moore, 3 points when Starks drained a 3 pointer that left them down only 79-76. But Starks missed a 3 pointer, and after Collier's rebound, so did Cunningham. Marcus Capers connected on a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left, and Starks and Brandt both missed 3 pointers on Oregon St.'s last possession.
The 4 missed three pointers in the final 20 seconds brought the Beavers down to just 35% for the game on their long range shots, making only 8 of 23. On a night where the Cougars shot nearly 54% from the field, and 50% on 3 pointers, 6 of 12, the reliance on the long shot was Oregon St.'s downfall.
Washington St. had an 18-4 advantage in points in the paint, and finished with a 38-28 advantage, despite playing without a true center.
Motum was 10 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3 pointers, on his way to his 26 points. He also led Washington St. on the boards, with 8.
Lacy shot 50 percent from the field, making 6 of 12 shots, and also 3 of 5 from 3 point range, and added 18 points for the Cougars.
Cunningham led the Beavers with 21 points, including 10 of 11 from the free throw line, but only 1 of 5 on 3 pointers. Starks hit 5 of 12 3 pointers, and finished with 18 points.
Cunningham also had 4 assists, and Starks 2, and both had 4 steals.
Joe Burton had another decent night, scoring 14 points. Burton also grabbed 7 rebounds, and served up 3 assists. Moreland had a game high 10 rebounds, and just missed a double double off the bench, with 8 points.
Collier had a disappointingly quiet night, with 3 rebounds, 2 points, and 1 assist, and only played 14 minutes.
Oregon St. coach Craig Robinson tried something different with the backcourt, playing Challe Barton half the game, and used Nelson only 14 minutes. Neither was particularly effective.
"We weren't in sync at the start of the game, just like on Thursday," Robinson said. "I'm going to take the blame for that. I need to go back to the drawing board, and figure out what I have to do to get this team motivated to be as good as they are at the beginning of the games as they are at the end of these games."
Washington St. (9-5 , 1-1) hits the road for a trip to Utah to play the Utes Thursday night, and then on to Colorado for a meeting with the Buffs Saturday.
As a side note, this was the last Washington St. game that Vince Grippi covered for the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Grippi is retiring effective tonight, after 30 years with the Spokesman, and the Cougs.
Oregon St, (10-4, 0-2) will host a critical series with the Bay Area schools in their conference home opening series. California comes to Gill Coliseum for a 7 PM game Thursday, with Stanford following at the same evening hour on Saturday.
The Golden Bears and Cardinal share the Pac-12 lead with Washington, all with 2-0 conference marks, after California (12-3) dominated UCLA (7-7, 0-2) 85-69, Stanford (12-2) defeated USC (5-10,0-2) 51-43, and Washington (8-5) whipped Oregon (10-4, 1-1) 76-60.