Cougars hellbent on continuing their season

LOS ANGELES – Marcus Capers has played more basketball games than anyone in Washington State history, but he desperately wants to play in game No. 130. And No. 131. And No. 132. And however many more it takes to give Washington State its first title in a national post-season basketball tournament.

Capers, one of the most personable and popular Cougars in recent memory, left the Staples Center court in tears Wednesday afternoon after WSU's 69-64 loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pacific-12 Conference tournament.

Capers realizes WSU's season, and his college career, may be finished. The 15-16 Cougars hope to keep playing, however, and that would give Capers a chance to complete some unfinished business.

"I just want to apologize to the fans," Capers said at a post-game press conference at Staples, "because I feel like we should have won more games while I was here.

"I feel like I had a solid career. I just appreciate the Cougar Nation for all the love they showed me the four years I was here."

TOURNEY TALK: One year after reaching the NIT Final Four, Cougar coach Ken Bone said he hasn't entirely ruled out the possibility of playing in the NIT once again.

"I really don't know," he said. "I'd probably expect our chances to be slim with the NIT, and I would guess our chances would be good for the CBI."

The College Basketball Invitational is a 16-team event that begins next Tuesday. Two of the CBI's four champions -- Oregon State in 2009 and Oregon last year -- were Pac-10 rivals of WSU that entered the tournament with losing records.

"We'd love to go on and play," Bone said.

"I feel we can win any tournament," guard DaVonte Lacy said. "I feel we could have won this tournament."

FAULTY FINISH: Instead of winning the first conference tournament in school history, the Cougars lost in the first round for the third straight year because they failed to deliver in crunch time for the umpteenth time this season.

"Down the stretch," Bone summed up, "Oregon State made plays and we didn't."

The Cougars, who erased an early 24-8 deficit to take a 39-38 halftime lead, faltered badly after Mike Ladd converted a slick feed from Brock Motum for a layin and a 60-58 lead with 4 minutes left.

The Cougars missed their four remaining field-goal attempts, plus five of eight free throws (all in the final 2:14). Oregon State scored just one field goal after Devon Collier's dunk knotted the score at 58-58 with 6:58 left, but the Beavers then sank 9 of 14 free throws before two meaningless misses in the final seconds.

"We've got to play the whole game – 40 minutes," Capers said.

D.J. SHELTON: 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block in 26 minutes vs. OSU.

BATTLING BEAVERS: Oregon State had lost four straight and 10 of 12 to WSU, but the Beavers were utterly dominant at the start of the game.

"They came out ready and we didn't," Lacy admitted.

"Oregon State came out and threw the first punch and landed it pretty hard," Bone said. "I don't think I had our guys ready to go."

The Cougars surged back to take the lead at the half -- "That's pretty impressive," Bone said -- but the Cougars had to shoot 68 percent from the field in the first half to offset their lax defense and 10 turnovers. When the Cougars shot just 28 percent in the second half and continued to have lapses with their defense and taking care of the ball, their fate was sealed.

"We've got to value each possession," said Motum, who had five of WSU's 15 turnovers.

"We had some good looks (at the basket), we just didn't convert," Bone said. "Unfortunately, some of them were at the free-throw line."

MILESTONES: Motum became the third Cougar in history to eclipse 500 points and 200 rebounds in one season when he scored a team-high 18 points and added six rebounds. Motum joined Larry Beck (1955-56) and Steve Puidokas (1974-75) in the exclusive club. Motum passed Isaac Fontaine and Puidokas to move into seventh in school history with 560 points in a season.

Moore racked up 10 assists to pass Taylor Rochestie for second in WSU history with 170 assists in one season. Donminic Ellison set the record of 192 in 1994-95.

TOUGH DEFENSE: Oregon State point guard Ahmad Starks continued his hot 3-point shooting of late by nailing four treys in the first 6 1-2 minutes. The Cougars opened in a 2-3 zone defense, but Moore shut down Starks (who finished with 13 points) after WSU switched to man-to-man.

"I was just trying not to let him get the ball," Moore said.

Moore got a bitter taste of his own medicine at the other end of the floor when Oregon State star Jared Cunningham helped limit Moore to 10 points on 3-for-16 shooting.

"He's a good defender," Moore said.

Speaking of good defenders – Capers was the primary man who limited Cunningham to a season-low four points. Capers also tied his season high of 14 points and led the Cougars with eight rebounds.

Motum replaced Cunningham atop the Pac-12 scoring list with 18.1 points per game to Cunningham's 17.7.

BENCH HELP: Bone wondered aloud if some of Moore's shooting woes in the second half Wednesday and WSU's second-half problems in general might be tied in with his reluctance to go to the bench.

Bone played just seven players Wednesday. Both reserves who saw action, post D.J. Shelton (seven points in 26 minutes) and wing Mike Ladd (four points in 23 minutes), contributed at both ends of the floor.

"They're really good players," Moore said. "They can always do that."

CONFUSION REIGNS: Many college basketball fans and sports writers -- not to mention some coaches and players -- are confused about a few items that seem to come up late in the season every year.

First, the Postseason Tournament -- one of four national post-season tournaments -- is not open to teams that play in leagues widely recognized as Bowl Championship Series conferences. That includes Washington State and the Pac-12.

Secondly, the NCAA officially counts individual and team statistics from games through the national championship contest. Until a few years ago, official statistics included only regular-season games. So it's therefore too early to crown Motum the Pac-12 scoring champ and Moore the Pac-12 assist king.

Finally, the NCAA regards conference tournaments as part of the regular season. Only the four national tournaments are officially recognized as post-season games.

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