Does latest loss portend WSU youth movement?

BRETT BOESE

IT WAS A name heard as frequently in recent weeks for Washington State as Stephen Sauls. But during Saturday's 73-56 loss at Arizona, Spokane native Brett Boese finally entered the game late in the first half. Boese even provided one of the few highlights during the second half as he hit his first 3-pointer in Pac-12 play as the Cougars suffered their eighth consecutive loss.

With just three regular-season games remaining, Brett Boese and classmate Junior Longrus should hear their names called more frequently. WSU (11-17 overall, 2-13 conference) won't be favored in any of its remaining games, and while the goal never is to lose intentionally, the Cougars need to develop its young core of players to pair with backcourt talents Demarquise Johnson and Ikenna Iroegbu.

That won't happen with veteran role players commanding the bulk of minutes. WSU needs to figure out what it has in players such as Boese and Longrus. If both figure to have significant roles in the program moving forward, they need as much playing time as possible during a lost season to learn. There was no better place to accomplish that than against the 12th-ranked Wildcats (23-4, 11-4).

The Cougars have been through seasons like this before. Notably, Robbie Cowgill, Daven Harmeling and Kyle Weaver suffered through the 81-29 loss on Dec. 4, 2004 at Oklahoma State as freshmen. They rebounded, along with Derrick Low and Aron Baynes, to form the core of WSU's back-to-back 26-win seasons. No one is suggesting that Boese and Longrus can replicate that, but getting on-court experience would be beneficial toward moving the Cougars back to respectability during the next few seasons.

WSU coach Ken Bone did well to get Boese, who had not played since Feb. 7 at USC, and Longrus more minutes. That trend should continue when the Cougars next play March 3 at Washington. Boese and Longrus combined to play 17 minutes Saturday.

"I like the way Brett came in and played with confidence," Bone said during a postgame radio interview. "It was good to see."

The youth movement might provide an element of interest for a disgruntled fan base, which is witnessing the Cougars' worst season in a decade.

Outside of senior center Brock Motum, who scored 20 points to move past Bennie Seltzer to seventh place on the program's career scoring list (1,433), there were few intriguing developments for WSU outside of that. The Cougars were dominated during the first half – they trailed 35-19 at the intermission – as they had more turnovers than field goals.

Behind Motum, WSU went on a 10-0 run during the second half and came close to reducing their deficit to single digits. But the Cougars converted just 14 of 28 free throws, which kept the them from mounting a challenge.

"We weren't making the free throws you've got to make," WSU coach Ken Bone said. "You've got to make free throws in a lot of games, especially on the road."

While Kevin Parrom (19 points) and Mark Lyons (14) helped Arizona shoot 55.6 percent from the field, the Cougars struggled to generate much offense outside of Motum as they converted 45 percent of their shots. Sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, who has been WSU's breakout player of the second half of the season, had just six points.

"I think a lot of that credit goes to them," Bone said. "That's one of the better defensive teams – one of the better teams – in the country."

WSU PLAYER OF THE GAME: Despite struggling from the free-throw line, where he made just 5 of 11 attempts, Motum reached 20 points for the first time since Jan. 26 at Oregon State.

INTERESTING STATS: WSU shot 10 more free throws than the Wildcats, but only made two more attemtps than Arizona, which was a modest 12 of 18.

NEXT UP ON SCHEDULE: WSU plays March 3 at Washington (TV: FSN).

PLAY OF THE GAME: Perhaps more than a play, it was a sequence. In a game where the Cougars felt like they might fall behind by 30 points, they went on a 10-0 run during the second half and could have reduced their deficit to single digits with better free-throw shooting.

THE RECORD: WSU is now 11-17 overall and 2-13 in Pac-12 play.

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