HOOPS: Cougs' trademark D goes missing

IT TOOK ONLY four minutes or so. That's all the time Butler needed opening the second half to seal a win over Washington State and turn a tight, 40-38 contest at the break into a title game win in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The seeds of the Wazzu loss, however, were sown in the first half.

The Cougs' zone defense, so impressive these past few weeks, looked a step slow in the 84-68 loss to Butler (9-4).

Maybe a step and a half.

Washington State, No. 5 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowed Butler to shoot 47 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes. And then higher than that in the second half. Butler shot 50 percent for the game.

Early on, the Cougs did all they could on the offensive end, keeping things close and heading into the break down only a bucket. Klay Thompson in particular, who finished with 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting, shined bright throughout.

But few other Cougs made an impact on the offensive end, unable to solve Butler's physical D and get enough open looks. No other Cougar scored in double digits.

And although the scoreboard didn't reflect it at the break, WSU was playing with fire. Butler looked energized on defense, Washington State was instead operating at an idle. Once Butler's 3-point shooters got dialed in to open the second half, it was over quickly.

WSU and Butler played three games in four days in Hawaii, but Butler played physical in the final and WSU had few answers. The Cougs shot a desultory 9-27 in the second half, and 41 percent for the game.

Still, the Cougars knocked off the No. 15 ranked team in the land, Baylor, to get to the final.

They stand at 10-2 on the year headed into Pac-10 play.

While a win in the final would have guaranteed a Top 25 ranking, they still might slide into the poll when it's released next week. And it was also a teaching moment for Ken Bone and the Cougs.

Washington State will go only so far as their defense takes them this year. On Christmas Night, the Cougars were reminded of that.

How they respond defensively against UCLA and USC, on Dec. 29 and Dec. 31, respectively, will show how much they learned from the loss.


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