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Analysis: Sluggish Washington State suffers first home defeat, losing to Stanford 78-66

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 19, 2019

Stanford forward Oscar da Silva  dunks during the first half  against Washington State in Pullman on Saturday. (Young Kwak / AP)
Stanford forward Oscar da Silva dunks during the first half against Washington State in Pullman on Saturday. (Young Kwak / AP)

PULLMAN – Sleepy passes flew into the scorer’s table. Botched defensive assignments led to unchallenged dunks. Point-blank layups rolled around the lip of the rim and fell right out.

One minute, it felt as though Washington State had finally captured some momentum in Pac-12 Conference play following a 23-point win over Cal. The next, the Cougars were walking off their home court, heads and chins held lower than low after suffering a 78-66 loss to Stanford Saturday afternoon that dropped them to 8-10 on the season and 1-4 in conference play.

Eleven teams were picked to finish ahead of the Cougars when the Pac-12 released its preseason polls, so no loss suffered by WSU over the next 1 1/2 months should be too startling.

But that doesn’t mean Saturday’s game wasn’t aggravating, or even slightly baffling.

The Cougars faced a Stanford team that hadn’t won away from home since Nov. 9. A noon tipoff probably was not optimal for the visitors, either, after playing Washington in Seattle less than 48 hours earlier. KZ Okpala, the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer and Stanford’s top rebounder, dressed in a sweatsuit and missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

It all made things that much more puzzling for the Cougars, who’d go on to suffer their first home loss in 2018-19 despite playing in front of their second-biggest crowd of the season.

The official attendance was 2,364.

“No excuses,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “I’m scratching my head now a little bit because we’re missing rotations, we’re missing block outs, we took some bad shots. We’ve kind of monitored this team and when we don’t play well, obviously we take bad shots and there are points off those bad shots.

“When you have turnovers, there’s points off those turnovers and when you don’t block out, there’s points off those missed block outs. And I counted about 30-plus points for them in the game tonight – that’s an awful lot of points to give a team when you are responsible for those things.”

For the ninth time this season, the number in the turnover column was greater than the one in the assist column.

The Cougars, unable to crack Stanford’s 2-3 zone defense, committed 14 turnovers and had only 10 assists. The visitors opened with a tall, long lineup that included 6-foot-6 Bryce Wills, 6-9 Oscar Da Silva and 7-0 Josh Sharma, allowing them to interrupt WSU’s passing lanes.

Even when the Cardinal shifted to a 1-3-1 – a look the Cougars are more familiar with because they often employ it themselves – WSU still struggled to operate a clean offense.

“We haven’t seen a 1-3-1. We practice it all the time, but with their length it caused problems,” senior forward Robert Franks said. “And it caused us to not move the ball the way we want to.

“Length is always going to be a problem, but I wouldn’t just predicate it off them. That’s with anybody and if we would’ve executed our game plan, it would’ve been better for us.”

In his second game back from a monthlong hiatus, Franks never found his offensive rhythm. The top scorer in the Pac-12 managed just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

CJ Elleby led the Cougars with 18 points, but the freshman wasn’t terribly efficient, making just 8 of 21 attempts from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point range. Elleby played his first 40-minute game and impacted it in other ways, grabbing nine rebounds.

“I thought CJ played extremely hard in the game,” Kent said. “You’re going to have bad shooting nights, but you have to play hard. You have to do that.”

WSU point guard Ahmed Ali had an accurate day shooting, but the junior college transfer only attempted seven shots, making five, including four from beyond the arc. Ali finished with 14 points.

“It would be nice if we would pass him the ball more, particularly when a guy is hot you would think you would find him more,” Kent said. “But it was tough rotations because teams started to sit on him a little bit and being a little bit smaller, it was hard for him to get open.”

The Cougars shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, making 10 of 26, but they connected on just 41 percent of their shots inside the arc and got to the free-throw line just eight times. WSU’s bench logged more than 43 minutes, but five reserves combined for just five points.

Seattle native Daejon Davis finished with a team-high 15 points for Stanford, also adding six assists, five steals and three rebounds. Sharma and Wills each totaled 13 points.

The Cougars, 0-3 in true road games and 0-9 in games played outside of Beasley Coliseum, visit the Oregon schools next week.

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