Cougs flirt with upset before Utah pulls away

PULLMAN — Ernie Kent thought he had an excellent game plan to prevent No.13 Utah from rolling over the Cougars for the second time this season. For a half, it worked, as the plan to slow down Utah caused the Utes to struggle from 3-point range. But there's a reason Utah is NCAA-bound and a top 25 team.

After hitting just 2 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half, Utah got it cooking in the second half, burying 8 of 12 shots from behind the arc on the way to a 67-59 win over Washington State.

“I thought we had terrific shot pressure and they hit some tough, tough threes,” Kent said. “The best 3-point shooting team in the conference, percentage wise, a veteran basketball team. They made some big shots, and that was the difference in the game really. I thought we did a good job in a lot of areas in the game, but let a game get a way from us again.”

Early on in the first half, both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm. The Cougars (12-17, 6-11) increased their defensive pressure with the hopes of making the Utes (23-6, 13-4) play more half-court offense.

“They sent three guys back to keep us from running, we sent three back to keep them from running (on the fast break),” Kent said. “It was almost like a pro game, a possession by possession game. It became an ugly game (scoring wise) because we're really good defensively and we didn’t give them easy looks. We didn’t give them anything inside, we fronted the post, we shut down the three, we did everything we needed to do in the first half.”

With the Utes also preventing the Cougars from running, WSU decided to work the ball into the paint. Senior Jordan Railey took advantage of the one-on-one match-ups that were thrown at him and scored 12 points in the first half.

“They just couldn’t help off our great shooters,” Railey said. “They were sticking with them (WSU’s shooters) which pretty much gave me an open lane, to play one-on-one in the post.”

Though Railey had his opportunities to score in the paint, he got into foul trouble in the second half. The Railey advantage was suddenly stalled.

“The biggest thing I need for him to do is to not get back into deeper foul trouble and keep his composure,” Kent said. “I thought he got a little rattled in the game, which affected us.”

With Railey in foul trouble and sidelined for a majority of the second half, junior forward Junior Longrus came off the bench and provided a spark for the Cougars on both sides of the ball.

“I thought Junior played very well in the game,” Kent said. “He’s always played hard. And he was able to do some things offensively.”

Longrus finished the night with six points and seven rebounds.

“Know your do your job is kind of our mantra,” Longrus said. “A lot of my job is to the garbage points so anytime I can go out there and do what ever it is to help the team is always a good thing.”

Washington State was on the verge of an upset, leading for much of the first half before settling for a 23-23 halftime tie. But the Cougars started the second half fast, and led 48-40 when Utah made its move. Utah took a 53-50 lead with 4:55 left in the game after junior guard Brandon Taylor hit an off balanced 3-pointer.

The Utes wiped out WSU's eight-point lead by finishing the game on a 27-11 run.

“You can slow them down, but you can’t stop them,” Lacy said. “I think we did a good job of slowing them down the whole game, but they made some huge shots and it wasn’t nothing but that just huge shots.”

The Cougars play their final regular season game against Colorado on at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, a game televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

  • -Starting lineup included Ike Iroegbu, DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Josh Hawkinson, and Jordan Railey.

  • WSU’s all-time leading scorer Issac Fontaine was in attendance tonight.

  • Attendance was 2,640.

  • WSU outscored Utah 26-16 in the paint.

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