Cougars' season ends with a whimper
Washington State faltered late in a game, again, losing to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament.
Seattle Times staff columnist
LOS ANGELES — After he fouled out in the closing moments of the 69-64 loss, Washington State senior guard Marcus Capers buried his face in a towel and cried softly.
As he always did, Capers had contributed a little of everything in this game. He rebounded. He got to the rim. He dished passes, and he was an island of calm in a stormy afternoon.
But in the final minutes of this first-round Pac-12 tournament game against Oregon State, the Cougars ran out of gas again. They missed free throws again. They couldn't finish when they got to the rim again. They squandered a second-half lead again.
It has been a Groundhog Day-kind of season for the Cougars, a season that ended with this loss. It was a season of what-ifs and almosts that died with a final 10 minutes of misery.
In those final 10 minutes, the Cougars scored only eight points and made only one field goal. They led 56-54 after Brock Motum converted inside on a pass from Capers, and then they lost their edge again.
"I don't know exactly why it happens," Washington State coach Ken Bone said in the postgame news conference. "We go back to some of the plays that we had a lot of success with early and try to run them late in the game. We get good looks, but we can't convert.
"If I had to put my thumb on it, I should get the blame for playing guys too many minutes. There could be a fatigue factor, and that's on me. It can play a part at times."
The same thing happened in Pullman two weeks ago, when the Cougars blew a double-digit lead to Washington. It happened less dramatically in a loss at Oregon and in a loss at home to Arizona.
Washington State finished the season 15-16, Bone's first losing season in three years at the school.
The disappointment of this incomplete season was evident in Capers' face as he walked off the court for the final time as a Cougar.
"I'd like to apologize to the fans," Capers said. "I feel like we should have won more games while I was here. I appreciated all the love that Cougar Nation showed me."
Capers has nothing to apologize for.
"He's the epitome of a student-athlete," Bone said. "He's a good student. He always played hard, gave great effort. Those are the guys who are fun to coach."
In so many different ways, this loss was like a lot of the other Cougars losses. At times they played very efficiently and purposefully and then, at other times, they were tentative.
In a season when the Pac-12 has looked no better than a mid-major conference, the Cougars should have been better. But their long lapses killed them.
Lapses like the start of this game.
Early in the first half, as Washington State fell behind the Beavers 24-8, one of the Cougars assistant coaches hollered to nobody in particular, "We're playing like we want to go home."
Ahmad Starks was riddling WSU's passive zone, hitting four consecutive threes. The Cougars big men weren't moving their feet, allowing easy layups along the baseline. The offense carelessly was throwing the ball around Staples Center, which had all the energy of an empty garage.
The Cougars had spent eight days in L.A. (they finished the regular season at USC), and they were playing like they were homesick for the Palouse.
"I feel like a lot of people were over-excited," Capers said of the bad start. "If we don't start off like that, I think we'd be having a different conversation now."
With Bone imploring them to "play through" the adversity, the Cougars started playing freely and playing smarter in the midsection of the first half.
Reggie Moore penetrated and expertly dropped passes to D.J. Shelton and Capers. Motum, DaVonte Lacy and Abe Lodwick hit threes.
The Cougars had life. They were playing like they loved L.A., wanted to stay for at least another day.
By halftime, they had a 39-38 lead, and the Cougars fan was going wild. All right, there were a few Cougs in this intimate early afternoon gathering, but there were no more than 2,000 people in the building, including former Beavers Gary Payton and A.C. Green, wearing their OSU orange and black.
The Washington State lead grew to 44-38 early in the second half before the other, tentative Cougars returned. The Beavers, who had lost twice to WSU, reasserted themselves inside, made their free throws and a Cougars season that could have made some noise ended in a soft whimper.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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