Loss at Cal drives home Moore's absence

IT HAS BEEN an ongoing question for months. And if Saturday's 67-54 loss at California clarified anything for Washington State, it is how much the Cougars miss senior point guard Reggie Moore. As WSU's offense went stagnant during the second half, it could have used Moore's ability to penetrate and draw fouls.

Instead, the Bears (10-6 overall, 2-2 conference) were able to bottle up Motum, mostly with senior Bak Bak, as the Cougars had to settle for a slew of unsuccessful jumpers. It was a similar script to Wednesday night's 78-67 loss at Stanford, except Motum was held to 16 points against Cal.

WSU (9-7, 0-3) trailed just 44-43 when senior guard Mike Ladd scored on a layup with 12:08 remaining. But the Cougars did not score again until sophomore swingman Dexter Kernich-Drew hit a 3-pointer with 7:39 left to cut their deficit to 50-46.

Sophomore Royce Woolridge hit a 3-pointer – his first since Dec. 1 against Portland – to reduce the Bears' lead to 52-49 with 5:50 remaining. But Cal responded with a 6-0 run and WSU never really challenged the Bears again from that point.

Perhaps the oddest development of coach Ken Bone's fourth season has been the Cougars' offensive woes. In addition to Motum, Ladd and Woolridge both reached double figures with 12 points each. That trio combined to shoot just 15 of 43 from the field, though. WSU shot just 33 percent from the field.

"I liked the fact that we were able to cause a team like that 19 turnovers," said Bone, who noted in a postgame radio interview that Ladd also grabbed nine of his team's 21 offensive rebounds. "But you've got to be able to take advantage of that. We struggled to take advantage of that and finishing."

During his tenures at both Seattle Pacific and Portland State, Bone achieved success through offenses that often were prolific from beyond the arc. The Cougars converted just 4 of 18 3-pointers against the Bears. Arguably the team's best shooter from beyond the arc, DaVonté Lacy, did not even attempt a 3-pointer as he was shaddled with foul trouble that limited him to 16 minutes.

"He's a lot better than he's playing right now," said Bone, adding that he and his assistants debated whether Lacy should even start the second half.

And unlike some of the success WSU achieved during the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Cougars defense did not help. While WSU struggled to draw fouls, it helped three Bears, Tyrone Wallace (16), Allen Crabbe (14) and Justin Cobbs (10), reach double-digit points through frequent fouls. Cal converted 28 of 36 attempts from the free-throw line. Meanwhile, the Cougars made just 10 of 21 from the stripe.

In addition, WSU did not play its standard tough defense – it entered the game ranked 61st in statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defense metric – as the Bears made 18 of 37 field goals.

It culminated with the worst conference start of Bone's tenure. The Cougars have not lost their first three conference games since 2002-03, when they started 0-14 in the Pac-10 en route to a 2-16 mark in the final season of Paul Graham's tenure.

WSU hopes to end that Wednesday when it returns home to play a struggling Utah squad.

"This group," Bone said, "I can't doubt their work ethic and their will to win."

WSU PLAYER OF THE GAME: Despite his shooting woes, Ladd kept the Cougars competitive for much of the game with his offensive rebounding prowess. He finished with 12 rebounds and his 12 points marked the fourth straight game he reached double figures.

INTERESTING STAT: WSU put itself in position to win at Cal for the first time since 2008 by creating 19 turnovers.

NEXT UP ON SCHEDULE: The Cougars play the Utes, who could arrive in Pullman winless in Pac-12 play depending the result of Saturday's game against USC.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Wallace's offensive rebound and putback with 5:29 left gave the Bears a 54-49 lead.

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