THERE WAS ONCE a football team that couldn’t get out of its own way during close games. They lost four of 11 football games by six points or fewer. All of the heartbreak happened during the final seconds. Twice the team lost in overtime. In the other losses, one came on a field goal as time expired, the other on a touchdown run with 40 seconds remaining.
“I don’t know how you handle this situation. I’m finding out. But it’s not written up in a psychology book,” said the coach of the unlucky team.
This team bounced back from its run of last-minute misfortune the following season, going on to post the best three-year run in school history.
You might remember this team: that snake-bit team was your 2000 Washington State football Cougars. From 2001-03, WSU won 30 games, a Pac-10 championship and played in three bowl games.
In no way am I suggesting Cougar basketball is in for a similar sort of run after the wave of last-minute calamity it has experienced this season.
But the point is that it’s possible to rebound from a run of gut-wrenching losses. There’s reason to think WSU basketball is closer to relevant and respectable than in need of a complete retool.
Only three of Cougars’ 15 losses have been one-sided.
With five minutes remaining, they’ve been right there in nine of their 11 Pac-12 losses. Prior to league play, WSU darn near beat the team some think is No. 1 in the country in Gonzaga.
For whatever reason, the Cougars just lack a finishing punch. Maybe it’s a scorer or dynamic player like Que Johnson. Perhaps it is the coaching approach. Whatever it is, the frustration of the 2012-13 season should motivate the players in months to come to find answers.
The week ahead: If ever an upcoming series can expose a team’s mindset, this week is it, as Washington State (11-15, 2-11) takes on its toughest road trip of the season with the Arizona schools. At 7 p.m. Wednesday it’s Arizona State (19-7, 8-5), followed by a noon Saturday tip at No. 12 Arizona (21-4, 9-4). The Pac-12 Network televises Wednesday’s game, while Fox Sports Net is showing Saturday’s contest.
Earlier this season, Washington State dropped a pair to the Arizona schools at home, losing 63-59 to the Sun Devils and 79-65 to Arizona. The Cougars have lost five consecutive games to Arizona since sweeping the season series the 2009-10 season. Washington State’s last win at Arizona State was 2009.
Washington State couldn’t stop freshman Jahii Carson the last time the two teams played, not that the Cougars are alone. Carson is the leading candidate for Pac-12 freshman of the year, and is averaging 17.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. Carson torched the Cougs for 25 in ASU’s win in Pullman. Carrick Felix had 13 points and 11 boards in that game for the Sun Devils.
Felix is one of the Pac-12’s top double-double players, as he’s averaging 14.2 points and 8.0 rebounds this season. Arizona State is the conference leader in blocked shots (6.5 per game) and defensive rebounds (27.2). The Sun Devils’ weakness is free throw shooting, as they’re last in the Pac-12, hitting 61.6 percent of their attempts.
Arizona cruised to its win over WSU on Feb. 2 despite losing senior forward Kevin Parrom during the first half for throwing an elbow at DaVonté Lacy. The outcome was never in doubt, as Arizona led by double digits for most of the game. Mark Lyons scored 20 points and Solomon Hill hit six 3-pointers during the first half to lead the Wildcats.
Lyons is Arizona’s leading scorer at 15.3 points a game, ninth best in the Pac-12. Also among the league’s top 20 is Hill (13.7) and Nick Johnson (11.8). Lyons is a salty free throw shooter at 85.3 percent, second best in the Pac-12. Hill is one of the league’s top 3-point marksmen (.393 average).
Arizona is one game out of first place, because it scores (73.6 points a game, 2nd in Pac-12), and plays defense (63.0, fourth in Pac-12). What is somewhat fascinating about the Wildcats is that they lead the Pac-12 in 3-point field goals, with an average of 7.5 per game, but have the league’s worst 3-point shooting defense.
In the latest ESPN.com Bracketology, Arizona is slated to be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, while Arizona State just misses, considered to be the first team out.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel