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What the heck happened?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 13, 2008

I think it’s pretty safe to say that yesterday didn’t go the way any of us imagined. But I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll come to the correct conclusion: UCLA is a better basketball team than WSU, and in order for the Cougs to beat the Bruins, it takes a special effort.

Clearly, that special effort was not there yesterday.

I wasn’t so disappointed with the outcome itself; after all, I had UCLA ranked No. 1 coming into the season, and had a feeling the Bruins were starting to hit their stride after beating Stanford and Cal on the road last weekend. I was, however, disappointed by the way we did not even come close to matching UCLA’s intensity until the second half.

For what seemed like the first time all year, the Cougs didn’t come out with the focus necessary for the occasion. For the first time all year, they looked unprepared. They had no suitable plan to deal with the Bruins’ extended defense and they were careless with the basketball, giving their defense no shot to set up and slow down their opponents. (You can read my specific complaints throughout the game thread.)

Against most teams, the Cougars are good enough to overcome a slow start, something that truly hadn’t plagued them since the Baylor contest. But against UCLA, you simply can’t put yourself in that big of a hole, especially when the Bruins didn’t play all that well offensively to do it.

Why? Because the Bruins are such good athletes, there will come a point where that superior athleticism leads to a flurry that’s simply unstoppable by anyone, let alone the Cougs, who collectively simply aren’t as athletically gifted as most of their opponents. When Kevin Love starts burying 3s, and Russell Westbrook starts hitting step-back 15-footers, and Josh Shipp gets loose for a dunk or two … well, you better have put yourself in a position to weather the storm if you’re Washington State University. The Cougs just did not do that yesterday.

I’m really not worried about this having a negative lingering effect on the team. This is a resilient squad that will take the loss in stride, come back home, and beat the snot out of the Beavers on Thursday. The Cougs have proven time and time again that they learn from bad experience and come back even stronger.

The lingering effect I’m worried about is the one potentially left on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, given the way WSU was so thoroughly outplayed through the first 20 minutes. But one thing the committee usually seems to remember better than most fans or media members is that one game does not a season make, especially one that comes not even 50 percent of the way through the season. There is still plenty of time to erase the bad memory, especially when UCLA still has to make a return trip to a sold-out Beasley Coliseum.

If there’s one positive, it’s that Derrick Low seems to have discovered something yesterday. Shut out in the first half, he erupted for 24 points in the second half, displaying the sharpshooting that we all know he possesses. The other times he’s done that this year? Against Boise State and Baylor, two other games the Cougs trailed badly in the second half.

What if Low played like that earlier, not waiting until his team trailed by 15 to feel free to let it fly? I’m not asking for the guy to go O.J. Mayo — obviously, 24 points in a half is a special thing, and he’s not going to replicate that this year. I’d just like to see him take advantage of some of those catch-and-shoot opportunities he generally passes up anytime there’s a defender within five feet of him. Yesterday did not dissuade me that Low’s offensive output holds the key to just how special this season can be.

And it still can be special, despite yesterday’s loss. Better a lesson to learn in January rather than March.


7 Responses to “What the heck happened?”

  1. Jo~Jo said

    I agree with everything you’ve said. However, I post one question; how much different would this game have looked if the Cougs hadn’t missed 5 lay-ups in the first half. That’s 10 points.

    UCLA did play great D, but it’s not like the Cougs weren’t getting their chances. They had great looks in the first ten minutes and choked the bunnies. Can’t do that, not even against Oregon State. Make those bunnies and who knows what the rest of that game looks like.

    I would watch the game again, Nuss. I noticed a lot of things the second time I watched it, when I wasn’t in the heat of it, that actually showed the Cougs playing it closer than the score was. They just didn’t take advantage of the looks they got.

  2. Nuss said

    Even though I didn’t address the blown layups specifically, that’s kind of what I was driving at: You can’t miss opportunities against a team such as UCLA because the inevitable flurry is coming. You better take care of business when you get a chance, or you are not going to be in a position to withstand the storm.

    Honestly, our missed chances in the first half reminded me a lot of Gonzaga’s missed opportunities in the first half against us. Yes, we missed some looks, but UCLA was in our shorts on virtually every attempt. It does have an effect. And naysayers — of which I am not one — would argue that truly elite teams simply wouldn’t miss those opportunities.

  3. Michelle said

    Honestly, it’s too bad Derrick was on the bench for a lot of the first half. He is one of those players that shoots better when someone is in his face. Watch the last minute of that game, those were all catch and shoot type shots, not always wide open threes. It’s great to say What if Derrick played the whole game…I just hope he and Daven (and Taylor) gained some confidence for the future from those lights out threes. I think that was missing from the first half.

  4. Jo~Jo said

    Yes, all credit to the UCLA defense. But if there is one good thing to take from that game, is that the Cougs did have decent looks.

    And yes, great teams don’t miss those shots. The just need a bit more ice water in their veins.

  5. MikeR said

    Honestly, our missed chances in the first half reminded me a lot of Gonzaga’s missed opportunities in the first half against us. Yes, we missed some looks, but UCLA was in our shorts on virtually every attempt. It does have an effect.

    I agree — and that’s why I find it so funny when opposing fans complain that they would have beaten us if they had just shot better and made their open looks. The effect of the defense UCLA and WSU employ is that it completely takes you out of your offensive rhythm, so even when you do get open looks, you’re often so disjointed that you can’t hit them. That’s exactly what we saw for much of the game on Saturday.

    To many Coug fans, lost in the emotion of a frustrating loss is that UCLA played an almost perfect game against us. Honestly, it’s frightening to watch a team carve up our defense like they did. This isn’t like the Vanderbilt game where they just started nailing three after three — UCLA sliced us up like a surgeon.

    And you’re dead on about Low. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Low is our most important player, and whoever’s second (Baynes, Weaver) isn’t even close. When he takes it upon himself to start scoring, he can be lethal. Unfortunately, he usually doesn’t. There’s no reason a senior as good as he is should look as tentative as he does at times.

  6. Nuss said

    It’s not all that frightening to me. The odds of UCLA being able to do that again — in a road or neutral environment — are slim, and you saw what happened once that effort wasn’t so near-perfect. We were right in it. I think there are very few teams in the country that have the potential to do to us what UCLA did this weekend. I think the list starts and ends with the top four teams in the poll.

  7. Ptowncoug said

    I would say that UCLA’s game was far from perfect, but it was very, very good. They could not miss, but they had 13 TOs, which equaled our TOs, but they simply capitalized when we did not.
    I think we were not agressive enough and were not looking for shots. A good majority of the times when a player took the ball to the hole they were looking to dish it off.
    The one thing I kept saying is UCLA should have been beating us by 30 pts easily, and though it was 18 at times, we worked ourselves back in the game. That’s impressive. And if anyone says the Cougs did not get back in the game fails to recognize that the Cougs were down by 3 with 15 seconds with Love on the line for 2 FTs! That is simply unbelievable due to how dominated we were by UCLA and that goes along away for our Cougs.

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