Motum quiet as WSU again falters down stretch

ONE FACT SHOULD be clear 10 games into Pac-12 play: Washington State cannot afford mediocre performances from senior center Brock Motum. The Cougars stayed close – and even led at times despite Motum going more than 13 minutes without points to start the game – but it was not enough as the Cougars lost 72-68 on Thursday at USC.

WSU (11-12 overall, 2-8 conference) now has just one win in eight Pac-12 games when Motum is held to fewer than 20 points. Five points or less has determined three of those.

Close games often have been the case against the Trojans (10-13, 5-5) under both Ken Bone and former coach Tony Bennett. But the result usually has favored the Cougars, who won five of the last six contests against USC entering the game.

In what has become a microcosm of the season, WSU was not able to perform well down the stretch, though. After DaVonté Lacy hit a 3-pointer to give the Cougars a 50-49 lead with 7:01 minutes remaining, the Trojans went on a 13-4 run.

"I think we've talked about this before," WSU coach Ken Bone said during a postgame radio interview. "We've been here a few times. They had a pretty good run … and separated from us."

That run culminated when point guard Jio Fontan missed late in the shot clock, but Aaron Fuller collected the rebound and scored on a putback to give USC a 62-54 edge with 2:37 left. Despite a career-high 12 rebounds from junior forward D.J. Shelton, the Cougars were outrebounded 41-31.

"They're quick," Bone said. "They're athletic."

Despite those challenges, WSU mounted a comeback when the Trojans split their free throws on consecutive possessions and Motum hit a 3-pointer with about 10 seconds remaining to cut the Cougars' deficit to 70-68.

But WSU could not find Fontan on the inbounds and fouled him with just two-tenths of a second remaining. Fontan made both free throws to secure the victory. USC made 18 of 22 free throws, while the Cougars were just 10 of 17 from the stripe.

Motum only shot a pair of free throws – he converted one – and was 6 of 16 from the field en route to 15 points.

"He struggled in the second half," Bone said. "We tried to get him the ball more. To their credit, they slowed him down."

Guards Lacy and Mike Ladd did their best to take advantage of the Trojans' defensive focus on Motum. Lacy made four 3-pointers and 7 of 13 shots en route to a game-high 21 points. Ladd added 16 points.

It was enough where the Cougars could have pulled out a rare Pac-12 road win – they only have three conference victories away from Friel Court the last two seasons – if Motum could have reached 20 points.

Instead, WSU will have to try to end that streak at 7 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (17-6, 7-3), a program they have beaten on the road twice in the history of the program.

"A building that the Cougars have not had a great deal of success in," Bone said. "But this is a different season."

WSU PLAYER OF THE GAME: Lacy has been quiet for most of his sophomore season, but his 21 points helped keep the Cougars in the game as Motum scuffled.

INTERESTING STAT: WSU now has led at halftime in four of its last eight games. Winning some of those contests might have prevented the Cougars from facing the prospect of their first losing season since 2005-06.

NEXT UP ON SCHEDULE: WSU plays at 7 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

PLAY OF THE GAME: The momentum shifted late in the first half when the Cougars had a five-point lead and, it appeared, the final possession. Bone called a timeout to set up a play, but WSU settled for a quick shot and Byron Wesley broke for an uncontested layup as time expired. Wesley scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half. More importantly, WSU saw a realistic opportunity of a seven-point halftime lead shrink to 33-30.

"You hate to see an easy one at the end of the first half," Bone said. "We called a timeout – and didn't execute very well."

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