No apologies necessary, Marcus

PULLMAN – Saturday evening in the tunnel leading out of Beasley Coliseum, Marcus Capers was lauded for the supreme effort that nearly produced a win. Given the circumstances, the W would have bordered on epic. As he finished signing an autograph, he said thanks for the compliment, but then apologized for not delivering victory to the more than 9,000 high-octane fans who helped fuel so much magic.

It's true the Cougars had their chances to lock this one up against UCLA despite being severely outmanned with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore on the bench,

But rest assured, Marcus, no apologies were needed.

The energy the Cougars put into the defensive end of the court was, all by itself, worth the price of admission. Capers, joined by Faisal Aden, Ben Loewen, Abe Lodwick, DeAngelo Casto, Brock Motum and Will DiIorio were hustling and sliding and helping out and contesting shots in a way that would have made Dick Bennett proud. With assistant coach Ben Johnson helping orchestrate from the sidelines, they dished up various zones, interspersed some man-to-man, and generally harassed the hell out of UCLA.

The Bruins shot 28 percent from the field in the first half, going 7 for 25. They had 19 first-half points, and just 48 after 40 minutes.

Ben Howland was so frustrated by it all that he started popping timeouts like Altoids. His face at one point in the first half was so contorted from yelling that a fan sitting down low commented that he looked like he belonged in a Harry Potter movie.

Everything about this day was memorable. There was Thompson's heartfelt apology over the PA just before tipoff. There was Loewen, a never-used senior walk on, getting the start and turning in 21 stellar minutes. There was Motum scoring 15 points inside and out. There were the fans, loud and proud, doing their part from start to finish.

But perhaps more than anything, there was the game plan. The defense, of course, was downright fun to watch. And on offense, Ken Bone threw in the kitchen sink. His starting point guard was out with a bum ankle and one of the great scorers in school history was taking a seat for being a knucklehead, so Bone seemingly called upon every one of his 18 previous years as a college head coach to craft this attack. He slowed it down and had his guys slashing and dashing on the backside for reverse layups. They high posted. They fired up just enough three-point attempts – six in the first half, four in the second -- to keep things interesting, and tried to fast break only on a judicious basis.

You knew UCLA would make a run. The question really was how long and deep it would be. With just more than six minutes left in the game, and the game tied at 43, we had the answer. But the Cougs didn't stop believing. Motum proceeded to hit a jumper and layup to put WSU up by four.

Alas, the Bruins won in overtime, 58-54. Yes, there were wouldas, shouldas and couldas, not the least of which was WSU's 3-of-8 free throw shooting after halftime. But the broader story, from this corner of Friel at least, was the passion and poise the Cougars put forth on a day when no one expected them to have a chance.

The good news is that ESPN still considers the Cougars a bubble team for the Big Dance, and we don't have to wait long to get going again. The Cougs get to show their mettle Thursday in Los Angeles against Washington in the Pac-10 Tourney. Reggie Moore said in the Beasley tunnel after the game that his ankle would be fine by then. Thompson's status remains up in the air, but his pre-game effort clearly has him back on the right path.

The Cougs lost a heartbreaker Saturday. But in the process, they may have just found themselves. We'll know for sure by the end of the week.

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