Lackluster Cougs narrowly avoid upset

THE BENEFITS OF experience. Washington State looked like a team coming off a nine-day layoff, but its veterans played their best in the closing minutes of a 85-79 overtime win Sunday at Santa Clara.

The Broncos converted their first 29 free throws before Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini split a pair from the line in the closing minute to take a 71-68 lead. That allowed junior wing Klay Thompson, who led the Cougars with 23 points, to convert a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Thompson converted just 5 of 16 shots for the game.

"A lot of kids shy away from that opportunity," WSU coach Ken Bone said in a postgame radio interview. "They're afraid to fail. But not Klay."

WSU (8-1) never trailed in overtime as junior center DeAngelo Casto, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Thompson combined for the team's first nine points in overtime. After an inconsistent performance at the free-throw line during regulation, the Cougars made converted all seven of their shots at the stripe in overtime. WSU finished 75.7 percent from the free-throw stripe.

"Luckily we hung in their mentally and down the stretch we made our free throws," Bone said.

The Broncos (6-6) built a 35-29 halftime lead by exploiting perhaps the Cougars' biggest weakness.

At the intermission, Santa Clara had converted all 12 of its free-throw attempts. WSU made only 1 of 3.

THE COUGARS' free-throw rate — they were ranked 312th nationally in that category by college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy — was not an issue when they were playing overmatched teams such as Southern and Sacramento State. But as the outcomes become closer against higher-caliber competition, it is a concern.

That never will be a strength of junior wing Klay Thompson, who famously attempted just 31 free throws in 2008-09, or other jump shooters. Junior guard Faisal Aden entered the game without an attempt from the line in three games.

WSU is unlikely to turn that statistic into a strength given its personnel. But sophomore point guard Reggie Moore could at least make the Cougars adequate in that category.

Moore led WSU with 194 attempts from the line and made 79.3 percent of them. But Moore did not show the same aggressiveness after he returned from an injury to his left wrist Dec. 3 against Kansas State. In his first three games back, Moore attempted only eight free throws.

Moore matched that total against the Broncos, converting all eight of his attempts, and Thompson made 10 of 12 free throws as he looked to drive more during the second half.

"It's my goal to be aggressive at all times," Thompson said in a postgame radio interview. "I think I've matured more in that area."

THE COUGARS NEEDED that as they surrendered four 3-pointers to Foster, who scored a game-high 29 points and nearly helped Santa Clara earn the upset. The Broncos entered the game 4-0 in contests decided by five points or less.

"We still fought through adversity," said Thompson, who had five steals and six turnovers. "It's good to be tested."

Bone agreed. Besides the 63-58 loss against Kansas State, he noted that his team has not played in a close game.

"We need that going into this tournament," Bone said. "It's nice to go in with a little bit of confidence."

WSU, which earned five votes in last week's Associated Press poll, might have an opportunity be ranked with three games in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. That begins at 12 p.m. Wednesday when the Cougars face Mississippi State.

"I'm so excited," Thompson said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for us to make a name for our program."


  • Santa Clara, which converted 33 of 36 attempts, became the first team to make 30 free throws against the Cougars since Colorado State went 32 of 47 from the stripe on Dec. 14, 2002.

  • Bone now is 2-2 in overtime games as WSU's coach.

  • The Broncos' 10 3-pointers were twice as many as the Cougars produced.

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