LAS VEGAS – With nothing between Josh Hawkinson and the basket but air, Washington State’s all-conference forward leapt for the showy dunk, but couldn’t quite finish it.
The Pac-12’s leading rebounder was able to secure the ball as it caromed off the rim, but he did so by hanging on the rim, and his extra effort was rewarded with a technical foul and a free throw for his opponent.
So it went for a team that was too tired after a slog of a season to possibly compete in an extra game.
Dreams of a bewildering upset gave way to hopes of a well-fought battle, eventually settling into faith that Washington State would most likely not be lapped by Colorado in the points race, if only because the Buffaloes have more games to prepare for.
And then the Cougars still had another half to play.
Wednesday’s 80-56 CU victory may not have been the worst knockout the MGM Grand has seen, the Cougars did not have to contend with a Nate Diaz chokehold, but the Buffaloes ended WSU’s season rapidly and decisively.
“I just didn’t feel like we had any energy or any juice in the game,” Ernie Kent said. “I felt like Colorado had a lot of energy and lot of juice, with obviously something they’re playing for, solidifying, if they’re not already in, which they should be, a victory to get themselves into the (NCAA) tournament.”
No. 12-seed WSU (9-22) ended the season having lost it last 17 games. The Cougars have now exited the Pac-12 tournament after one game seven consecutive seasons.
Que Johnson began the game with the requisite level of focus (and skill) required for postseason competition but CU’s George King, the Pac-12’s newly-crowned Most Improved Player, made his early case for even better honors next season.
King scored 11 consecutive points for fifth-seeded CU (22-10) during one stretch on the way to a 17-point first half, nearly outscoring the Cougars, who trailed 41-22 at intermission. The Cougars made just 25.9 percent of their shots in the first half, a season-low.
In the first half the Buffaloes outscored WSU 11-1 in points off turnovers, added nine second-chance points and stole six passes. The Cougars were disjointed on offense and assisted on just one of their seven field goals in the first 20 minutes.
“I really thought we got them tired, Washington State, that is in the first half. I looked out there and before that first round of substitutions, they were gassed.”
Boyle’s first-half observation served as a miniature metaphor for a team that last won on Jan. 3, and was so mired in its losing rut that it had no energy left with which to attempt a win. WSU lost by more than 10 points in eight of its last 10 games.
“We had a bunch of slow starts as well, so we always felt like we were working our way from behind,” Hawkinson said. “It’s a hard thing to do for most of the season.”
“This is a mental-fatigued basketball team,” Kent said. “When you work as hard as we work, not only on the floor but weight room, in the classroom, and you do it again and again, and again, and you do not have an opportunity to feel that euphoria of having success, that’s hard to do mentally.”
The second half was not much better for the Cougars, who were forced to play out the last 20 minutes of their season with the outcome already decided.
Colorado 80, Washington St. 56
Washington St. (9-22)—Iroegbu 5-14 2-3 13, Callison 0-2 3-4 3, Hawkinson 3-9 2-3 8, Johnson 2-11 7-7 11, Izundu 1-2 0-2 2, King 1-3 0-1 2, Suggs 1-3 1-2 3, Redding 1-3 0-0 3, Daniels 1-2 0-0 3, Longrus 1-1 0-0 2, Franks 0-0 0-0 0, Boese 0-0 0-0 0, Clifford 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 19-54 15-22 56.
Colorado (22-10)—Gordon 1-5 0-0 2, Talton 3-6 1-1 8, Collier 2-3 0-0 6, King 7-12 5-6 21, Scott 3-8 0-0 6, Akyazili 3-6 0-0 7, Stalzer 0-0 0-0 0, Fletcher 2-6 2-2 6, Lombard 0-0 0-0 0, Guzonjic 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 3-6 2-2 8, Brady 1-1 0-0 3, Repine 0-0 0-0 0, Fortune 5-13 0-0 13. Totals 30-66 10-11 80.
Halftime—Colorado 41-22. 3-Point Goals—Washington St. 3-13 (Daniels 1-1, Redding 1-1, Iroegbu 1-5, Hawkinson 0-1, King 0-2, Johnson 0-3), Colorado 10-25 (Fortune 3-8, Collier 2-2, King 2-3, Brady 1-1, Akyazili 1-3, Talton 1-4, Gordon 0-1, Fletcher 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Washington St. 32 (Hawkinson 14), Colorado 43 (Gordon, Miller 7). Assists—Washington St. 8 (Callison, Iroegbu 3), Colorado 17 (Scott 5). Total Fouls—Washington St. 11, Colorado 17. Technical—Hawkinson. A—12,916.
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