Cougs freefalling into Pac-10 tourney

THIS IS NO disrespect to John Allen. The walk-on Washington State guard is, by all accounts, a scrapper. But you know something is wrong in Cougarville when the second-year freshman from Mountlake Terrace is playing in the first half of a Pac-10 basketball game.

A comeback for the ages was not to be. After a horrendous first half of basketball, WSU trailed by 19 early in the second. Klay Thompson led the Cougs back, almost all the way. But the last remaining remnant of OSU's 19 point lead was too much. The Cougs had several opportunities to take the lead or tie but could get no closer than a point, ultimately dropping a 59-55 decision on the road.

Klay Thompson's recent shooting woes were nowhere to be found in Corvallis, the sophomore simply went microwave in the second half. Three early treys by Thompson to open the second half helped pace Wazzu, who climbed to within a single point of Oregon State at 40-39 with 11:53 left to go in the game.

WSU then had three straight possessions to take the lead but all the energy expended in cutting the 19-point lead to a single digit seemed to have the Cougs hitting the wall. Oregon State scored five quick points and pushed the lead back to six.

Washington State fought back one final time down the stretch, cutting a 10-point lead back down to 53-52 with about a minute to play on a Thompson jumper, and then 55-54 with 34 seconds left. But OSU hit just enough of their free throws to hold off the Cougs.

Reggie Moore, after a turnover-filled first half, finished 0-for-8 from the field. But he also helped keep WSU in the game in the second half, hitting a nearly perfect 11-12 of his free throws on the night.

But as spirited a comeback charge as the Cougs mounted, the game was ultimately lost in the first half.

THEY'RE CALLED GROWING PAINS for a reason. They are, at times, painful to watch and Thursday was Exhibit A. Incredibly, Washington State didn't score a single bucket for the last 11:53 of the first half, as Oregon State built an 33-15 lead at the break.

The thing is, as offensively challenged as Washington State was on Thursday night in the first half, their defense might have been worse.

They were playing a team in Oregon State that had averaged 53 points the last three games, had topped the 70-point mark only twice this season in Pac-10 play and had scored all of 35 points against Stanford a little over a month ago.

Put simply, OSU is not a good shooting team. But against the Cougar D over the first 20 minutes, they were lights out.

IN A BATTLE of zone defenses, Oregon State had far too many point blank shots -- and plenty of room on the outside to operate. Both teams went through a lengthy scoring drought in the first half but when OSU missed, it had little effect because WSU played so sloppily on the other end, turning the ball over a staggering 15 times against what is, granted, a solid Beaver zone.

But 15 turnovers in the first half? While scoring 15 points? It's amazing WSU was even able to make this one a game.

It got so bad, Ken Bone scrapped WSU's 2-3 zone in favor of man-to-man defense the last five minutes of the opening half and sent in little used Allen and Michael Harthun in an effort to try and get something, anything, going.

It didn't work. WSU began hanging their heads with more than six minutes to go in the first half and didn't raise them again until Thompson and Nikola Koprivica drilled a pair of three-pointers in the early moments of the second half. The Cougs owned the second half, but the hole they dug was halfway to China before they found their rhythm.

Thompson finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and a career high three blocks. He was 7-11 from the floor, including 4-6 from beyond the arc. Washington State takes on Oregon Saturday at 5 p.m. There is no TV coverage in the state of Washington, with the Oregon Sports Network broadcasting the game.

PAC-10 TOURNEY SCENARIO: Even with the loss Thursday, the Cougs still have a chance to avoid the 8-9 seeded Wednesday play-in Pac-10 tourney game according to WSU Sports Information's Jessica Schmick. WSU must win on Saturday at Oregon, and Stanford must lose to Cal. The relevant tiebreaker scenario (best record against the highest-finishing team in the conference until the tie is broken) dictates that Arizona or USC, who play each other Saturday, need to finish ahead of or tied in the Pac-10 standings with UCLA. After Thursday's games, since Arizona and USC play each other Saturday and one of them has to win, the best UCLA (8-9) can do is to tie either Arizona (9-8) or USC (8-9). So if you're a Cougar fan, you're rooting on Saturday for a Stanford loss coupled with a WSU win.

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