HOOPS: Ladd points the way in WSU victory

IT WAS A sound strategy, even if it didn't fully take hold until the second half. With Fresno State entering Beasley on Sunday with a 30-plus steal margin, who better a choice to run the Washington State point than Mike Ladd, the Cougar guard who played his first two college seasons in a Bulldogs uniform?

It was a tighter game than the final score would indicate, the Cougs' 59-50 victory over FSU. There were nine lead changes, most of them in the second half. But in this point guard-by-committee season for WSU, Mike Ladd was the biggest reason why the Cougars moved to 6-4 on the year.

Sure, Brock Motum was again the Cougars' star – he was the game's leading scorer with 23 points and it was Motum's fourth consecutive game scoring 20-plus points. But WSU stilled trailed after Motum had done most of his damage, absent a complementing scoring threat until Ladd started driving to the hoop to begin in the second half.

As Ladd either scored or went to the line, that penetration also created space on the perimeter.

Beyond Ladd's 19 points – 14 of which came in the second half -- his biggest contribution won't show up in the box score.

When Ladd ran the point, Washington State's offense was at its smoothest. When other Cougar ball handlers took the reins against the opportunistic FSU defense, things got shaky.

LADD WASN'T LOOKING to score in the first half, he passed up some decent and took only three shots. He was also rested a decent amount over the game's first 20 minutes.

But with WSU trailing 25-24, Ken Bone's locker room adjustment was clear – keep Ladd on the floor and have him drive to the hoop.

Fresno State soon countered, closing things in the middle. So Ladd started shooting from outside. WSU took the lead back at 42-41 on a Ladd deuce. Tied at 45-all, Ladd hit the biggest bucket of the game, drilling a three-pointer to give the Cougs a lead they would not relinquish.

Ladd also threw up a prayer that was answered down the stretch -- falling to the ground after being fouled. Ladd missed the free throw but the Cougs retained possession and Motum drove the lane to put WSU up 54-48 and effectively put the game out of reach.

AS MUCH AS Ladd and Motum put up the points, the combination of finals week and a tough loss to Gonzaga on Wednesday looked to have taken a toll on the home team.

FSU missed a number of open shots with the Cougs slow to rotate defensively and their inside defense looking thin. Had Fresno State been a little sharper, particular in the first half, this one might have ended differently.

But it didn't. And the Cougs may have also found a reason to shift away from the point-guard-by-committee.

  • Ladd's 19 points were the most he's scored in a WSU uniform. His career high is 22 points, when he was with Fresno State in 2009. Motum led the Cougs with eight rebounds. D.J. Shelton had seven boards and Ladd had six.

  • So how good is Fresno State (5-4) and was their poor shooting performance an anomaly or par for the course against Pac-12 competition? A clearer picture should emerge soon, the Bulldogs play two of their next three games against Pac-12 teams in Colorado and UCLA.

  • Both teams shot poorly from the floor, Fresno State was 18-60 (30 percent) while Wazzu was 19-47 (40 percent). Both teams shot 71 percent from the free-throw line but was had seven more trips to the charity stripe (24 to 17.)

  • DaVonté Lacy hit his first field goal in the second half. The Cougar guard was in his second game back after a knee injury and was coming off a career high 22 points against Gonzaga. He scored four Sunday against Fresno State.

  • Royce Woolridge was the only other Cougar in double figures, with 11 points. Junior Longrus played a career-high 21 minutes (two points) while Shelton and Dexter Kernich-Drew failed to score.

  • Washington State's late game charge resulted in both teams scoring 26 points in the paint. Fresno State had nine steals to the Cougars' four. The turnover margin was closer, with FSU holding a 17-14 edge.

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