Cougars rally late for sixth straight win over Huskies
Seattle Times staff reporter
At times Saturday night it was hard to tell which was the home team. Washington State fans turned out as strong as they have in years to Edmundson Pavilion to puncture the Huskies' purple with vast swatches of crimson.
And at times it was equally hard to tell who were the Cougars and who were the Huskies as Washington turned in a pretty good facsimile of its cross-state rivals. Washington slowed it up on offense, clamped down on defense and had the No. 4 Cougars hanging on the ropes.
"It was right there in our grasp," said UW forward Quincy Pondexter.
But then crunch time came and the team's true identities were revealed, the Cougars making the plays that the Huskies couldn't and escaping with a 56-52 win in the Pac-10 opener for both teams in front of 10,000.
It was WSU's sixth win in a row against the Huskies, a streak that is beginning to take on a numbing sameness for Washington. Four of the games have come down to the final few minutes, with the Cougars pulling it out each time.
"It's tough to swallow that they've beaten us six times in a row," said UW guard Ryan Appleby. "We've had a bunch of close games with them and at the end, we just haven't been able to pull it out. They make some plays, they make some shots, and we don't."
Saturday night the Huskies couldn't even blame WSU's justifiably vaunted defense. The real culprit might have been a 5-for-13 mark at the free-throw line, 2 for 9 in the second half and 2 for 6 in the final 4:12. The Cougars were 12 of 14, 7 of 9 in the second half.
"A couple of more free throws," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, who also lamented the Huskies' 14 turnovers to WSU's seven. "We just didn't get it done."
Still, the Huskies had a last chance with just under 20 seconds left, trailing 54-52. Forward Jon Brockman spun and tried to drive on 6-foot-10 WSU forward Aron Baynes, who tipped Brockman's shot and forced an air ball. WSU's Kyle Weaver then hit two free throws with 15 seconds left to seal the win.
"We felt that Jon could get around Baynes," Romar said. "But Baynes did a good job of moving his feet and staying between Jon and the rim. He made Jon shoot over him."
Brockman, who had 14 points and 17 rebounds, said it was a shot he would be thinking about for a while. "I should have made a better move, I guess," he said with a shrug.
The Huskies honored former coach Marv Harshman -- who spent 14 years at UW and 13 at Washington State -- at halftime, renaming the main practice court after him. For much of the night, the game seemed right out of his era.
"We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game," said Brockman. "There were hardly any easy buckets the whole game."
But the Huskies, showing there is some bite to their talk of having an improved defense, led 20-17 at halftime. Those were fewer combined points than were scored in the football Apple Cup six weeks ago (WSU led 21-20 at halftime). The Cougars were just 6 of 23 shooting in the first half as UW went on a 15-2 run over an eight-minute stretch.
"We just were stagnant," said WSU coach Tony Bennett. "But our defense held us in there."
So did Baynes, who had nine points in the first half and 16 for the game.
But the Cougars hit shots in the second half. They went to double-teaming Brockman -- he shot 6 for 18 -- and regained the lead on a Derrick Low layin with 7:45 left.
The Huskies took it right back, and the game was tied at 48 with 6:02 left when the Cougars finally grabbed control. Washington shot 1 for 9 from the field the rest of the way. Bennett said he told his team to "make them work to get contested shots and let's try to get quality shots. As simple as it sounds, that is kind of our philosophy in a nutshell."
One that is leaving the Huskies nutty.
WSU improved to 13-0 while UW fell to 9-5, with each team heading to Los Angeles and games at USC and UCLA next weekend.
"We had this one in our hands," said Brockman. "That makes it hurt a little bit more."
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