WSU-Arizona: Close game becomes 17-point loss in final minutes; Kent says proud of Cougs but we lost mental game

WASHINGTON STATE had what it wanted. The Cougs were within one score late in the game, on the road, vs. No. 7/9 Arizona. But with the score 56-53 and 8:19 remaining on the clock, a 19-4 run by Arizona in five minutes' time slammed the door shut and the Cougs fell 79-62 on the road. There were two major regrets for Ernie Kent after the loss.

First, the Cougs lost the mental game in the final eight minutes, Kent said. Second, WSU on defense never stopped one aspect of the Arizona attack. 

"I’m proud of these guys for hanging in there, but … the physical part we were great for 34 minutes," Kent told Matt Chazanow on the Cougar Radio Network after the game. "The mental part got away from us in the last six minutes, and then the physical part because we got fatigued and they took advantage of us.

"I thought defensively, we never, ever figured out baseline out of our zone defense.  I feel they probably got 20 points out of just that play alone.  The mental breakdowns cost us down the stretch."

Kent said the coaching staff challenged Conor Clifford this week, with the Cougar big having gotten off to slow starts the last three games.  Clifford has averaged 20.0 minutes this season and has often been in foul trouble. Against Arizona, he played 31 minutes, led all scorers with 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting and finished the game with three personal fouls.

"I was very, very proud of him because he’s not the most mobile big man … and he was just a load for them to handle. I’m real, real proud of him … we’ve worked with him, we’ve brought him about as far as we can bring him and I’m real proud of him again for responding," said Kent.

It was a strange game in the sense the Cougs did a number of good things against a top 10 team and for a long period of time -- but the Cougs also left a lot of points on the floor. Several of the lost opportunities came when WSU could tie or take the lead in the second half.  In bench play, WSU was outscored 25-6.

"Charles Callison … I don’t need 30 points but I do need 15, he did six points in 27 minutes (3 of 8 shooting). That’s not good enough. He did get hit in the eye but again, we need production from that bench. There were shots out on the floor," said Kent.

WSU plays at Arizona State on Sunday.

"We’ve got some terrific games in us still. This game gave us a chance to grow ... In mental and physical toughness, we’ve come a long way. And we’ve done an excellent job in developing our talent," said Kent.

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