After four straight strong games, Washington State reverted back to their old ways and played very poorly in a loss to the Utah Utes Saturday night in Pullman. All the things that had plagued the Cougars throughout the year, struck again as the defense was putrid, the ball movement was poor and the overall performance was flat out sloppy. The Cougars started hot, going on a 10-2 run and were going blow for blow with the Utes by halftime. Robert Franks had 23 points, but it seemed that every Robo bucket was combatted by a Sedrick Barefield basket.
What the game ultimately came down to though was the halftime adjustments. Ernie Kent made very few adjustments, while Larry Krystowiak made one big change which was having gritty forward Donnie Tillman shadow Robert Franks no matter where he went. The result? Franks hit just three field goals in the second half and only scored seven points to finish with 29. C.J. Elleby, Marvin Cannon and Viont’e Daniels all chipped in double figure points but the Cougs got zero production from their point guards, and Isaiah Wade struggled with the added minutes due to Jeff Pollard’s injury.
The glaring issue however, was the defense. Utah hit just 14 field goals on Wednesday against Washington, whereas tonight they made 31 shots, fifteen of them from three point land. Utah’s Sedrick Barefield exploded for 30 points, while sharpshooting guard Parker Van Dyke hit five three’s en route to 17 points. The overall concerning part of the defensive performance though was how many great looks Utah got. The shots weren’t contested due to the Utes crisp ball movement and continuous off ball movement, leading to a lot of smart and open shots.
The Cougars will need to dissect what went wrong quickly because there is a very winnable road trip ahead for WSU. Stanford and California await the Cougars in the Bay Area, and both games are very much games the Cougars can win. Cal should be a breeze due to the absolutely pathetic nature of the Golden Bears team, but Stanford is another one WSU could steal. The Cardinal beat WSU in Pullman despite not having KZ Okpala, a frustrating loss the team will likely want to avenge.