LAS VEGAS – Barely audible inside an already silent locker room, D.J. Shelton looked at the ground and tried to answer for Washington State’s 64-62 loss to Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday.
He tried to explain the Cougars’ offensive stagnancy in the first half that forced them into an 11-point halftime deficit. He spoke of immeasurable things like heart, citing that as a reason WSU was able to erase a 19-point deficit in the second half to tie the game in the final minutes.
And Shelton tried to hide his frustration that a foul wasn’t called on Brock Motum’s 3-point attempt on WSU’s final possession.
Say this for the Cougars, whose disappointing season ended at the MGM Grand Garden Arena: They try. Boy, do they try.
“I was right there. I think it was a foul,” said Shelton, who scored a career-high 19 points to help key a 15-0 WSU run that tied the game with 2:52 to play. “He had both hands on him when he extended and I think he grabbed his arm. Bad no call.”
It’s true that Motum tried to draw contact when he caught the ball on the right wing, clock ticking inside 10 seconds, WSU trailing 64-62 after Desmond Simmons put UW ahead with an inside basket more than a minute earlier.
The 6-foot-10 Australian senior has made a habit of catching defenders with their hands too close to him, then tying their arms up as he raises for a shot. He usually gets the whistle.
But there was no foul called against Andrew Andrews, who Motum thought made enough contact with him to merit a foul.
“I thought he reached in and I shot a 3,” said Motum, whose collegiate career ended with a 28-point performance. “I thought I drew a foul. I heaved it up there trying to get three shots. The referees didn’t call it, or they didn’t see it, and (the Huskies) got the rebound.”
And so the memory of WSU’s mad dash to tie the thing will fade to the distance as they process their sixth loss this season by two or fewer points. UW advances to today’s quarterfinals to face third-seeded Oregon.
Coach Ken Bone, whose team finished 13-19, said he isn’t concerned about his future as WSU’s coach.
“I think we’ve done a good job, and decisions will be made whether it’s this year or next year or the following year,” Bone said. “It’s out of my control, so I’m not going to worry about things that are out of my control.”
WSU’s 15-0 run gave the Cougars hope of playing another day. It started with a Will DiIorio 3-pointer. Motum added another 3 to trim the deficit to single digits, then a transition layup to cut it to seven, the smallest UW lead since the 15:50 mark in the first half.
Sandwiched around another Motum 3-pointer, Royce Woolridge ended two misguided possessions by putting his head down and dribbling rimward, finishing both excursions with layups. The last one tied the score at 62-62 with 2:52 to play.
“Even though they got a big lead, I thought our guys did a great job of persevering once again – hanging together, continuing to be coachable and they just never quit,” Bone said.
“I think in the second half,” said Woolridge, who scored 12 points, “we definitely picked up the energy.”
If WSU had played with its second-half energy earlier, it wouldn’t have been facing such an uphill struggle. The Huskies raced to a 27-12 lead as the Cougars stood around, stagnant offensively.
WSU shot 41 percent from the field in the half and committed eight turnovers, which were converted by the Huskies into nine points. Motum, Woolridge and Shelton were the only Cougar players who scored until DiIorio’s 3-pointer with 7:49 left in the game.
The Cougars switched back and forth between zone and man defense, scrapping the zone for good after C.J. Wilcox made a 3-pointer in the corner that put the Huskies ahead 48-31 early in the second half.
Scott Suggs led UW (18-14) with 19 points, and point guard Abdul Gaddy added 11 assists, including a trio of alley-oop passes as Washington opened a 52-33 lead with 14:28 to play.
It was just enough to hold off a Cougars team that knows this feeling all too well.
“It’s happened quite a bit this year, and I think the really good teams around the country win those games,” Bone said. “This year, we were not a really good team.”