Cougs fall in Pac-10 tourney

<b>THROUGHOUT THE SEASON, Washington State has struggled with the zone and finding a way to land the knockout blow, coming up on the short end of several nailbiters. That form held true Thursday night as WSU held a 10-point lead late in the first but could not hold off Stanford in the second half, falling 60-58 in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament at the Staples Center.

Senior Thomas Kelati closed out his Cougar career with a game high 20 points fueled by 6 treys. Senior Jeff Varem added 11 points and 6 boards in his last game wearing the crimson and gray. True freshman Derrick Low had 10 points while Chris Schlatter added 5, including a 3-pointer that gave the Cougs a short-lived 1-point lead at 57-56 with 1:11 remaining.

In the final minute, Stanford scored on a layup when goaltending was called to go up by a point. Varem then hit 1 of 2 free throws to knot the score at 58. With 17 seconds left, the Cardinal found a seam, getting another driving layup to go up 60-58. Schlatter's three-point attempt was off the mark as the final seconds ticked off on the WSU season.

Assistant head coach Tony Bennett said Washington State (12-16) did not handle the Cardinal zone well enough in the second half.

"We really were trying to get our inside guys to really demand the ball," said Bennett. "When we did that we were somewhat effective, but we've struggled against zones all year."

The loss prevented the Cougs from a three game sweep of the Cardinal. Washington State took both regular-season meetings against Stanford (18-11) this year.

Seniors Kelati, Varem and Schlatter walked off the court for the last time in a WSU uniform. In the locker room after the loss, coach Dick Bennett made sure all of the seniors each knew how much they've contributed to Cougar basketball.

"They were pretty broken up," said the younger Bennett. "You saw how much they cared. I thought my dad did a good job of telling them how much they've meant to this program over the years."

Next year, the Cougs will field a young team with only one senior-to-be in Randy Green currently on the roster. Bennett said the sophomores-to-be will be heavily relied upon next year -- its vital for them to be working on developing their strength and basketball skills this offseason in order for the program to continue to grow.

"It's crucial that they attack the weight room -- in the spring, in the summer and in the fall," he said. "Its going to be a critical offseason."

Notes:

Washington State hit on 13 shots from behing the 3-point arc to tie a Pac-10 tournament record.


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