CONSIDER IT A REMINDER. Washington State recruited forward Austin Dufault in the 2008 recruiting class, but the former coaching staff seemed to prefer James Watson. The latter is long gone, while the Cougars were dominated in the post by Dufault on Saturday, who had 17 points in dealing the Cougs their second consecutive Pac-12 loss, 71-60, at Colorado.
Dufault, a four-star recruit by Scout.com, might have elected to sign with the Buffaloes, regardless. After all, he is a North Dakota native.
But his presence at CU (11-4 overall, 3-0) is indicative of a larger problem for the Cougars (9-7, 1-3). WSU simply has not had enough quality post players since Aron Baynes and Robbie Cowgill teamed to lead the Cougars to their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008.
Former coach Tony Bennett signed Spokane’s DeAngelo Casto in ’08 and Brock Motum was added in the transition class from Bennett to Ken Bone two years later.
That simply is not enough.
Post players are basketball’s version of offensive-line recruits. Because they often take two or three years to develop, coaches must sign them in every class. Dufault, who never averaged 10 points per game before this season, is an example of that.
That showed last season when the absence of another quality post player might have been the difference between playing in the NCAA vs. NIT, and has manifested again this season in Pac-12 play where WSU is forced to used the undersized Abe Lodwick, who was recruited as a guard, former walk-on Charlie Enquist and junior-college transfer D.J. Shelton in the post.
DESPITE THAT, the Cougars hung around for a half based on converting 4 of 8 3-pointers, but still trailed 32-24 at the intermission. WSU particularly was hurt by Dufault, who made all five of his shots -- several on layups -- and had 12 points at half.
“I liked the energy that Washington State came out with,” said FSN color commentator Reggie Theus, a former college and professional coach and player. “They didn’t hang their heads.”
“I thought we played with good energy and good focus,” he said in a post-game radio interview. “I thought we really played a good game in that respect.”
But sustaining that energy after a 62-60 upset overtime loss Thursday at Utah would prove challenging. When Bone called a timeout with 15:28 minutes left, the Cougars trailed 45-27 and never threatened first-place CU again.
WSU switched to a man-to-man defense in the second half. While Dufault slowed down, guard Carlon Brown took over as he finished with a game-high 28 points as WSU could not keep up with the Buffaloes’ pace.
“I thought it was all right,” said Bone, referring the defensive switch, which was designed to create more possessions. “When they started hitting those 3s, we didn’t have much of a choice.”
The Cougars twice cut their deficit from 55-33 when Andre Roberson hit a 3-pointer with 11:21 remaining to as little as eight, the final on a 3-pointer by redshirt freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew, (who made his first career start in place of junior Reggie Moore,) with 51 seconds left.
Despite coming off the bench, the junior responded with a team-high 14 points.
“I thought he reacted like a veteran -- very mature,” he said. “I thought he had a really good game.”
A few years ago, the Cougars might have slowed down the game and put the ball into Baynes’ hands. But WSU, which shot just 36.5 percent from the field, now must rely on superlative perimeter play to compete.
CU now leads the series, 2-1, against WSU. The Cougars won the last meeting, 84-74, on Dec. 19, 1969, in the New Mexico Invitational.
Motum shot just 2 of 10 from the field and scored just nine points. He averaged 21.7 points in his three previous conference games. Bone said he was not sure if it was the Buffaloes’ defense or Motum just being tired. “They crowded him and took some things away,” he said. “They did a good job of guarding him.”
CU outrebounded WSU 35-31. Considering the Cougars’ lack of size, Bone was not displeased with that statistic. “I thought we battled on the boards,” he said. “I think the better team won today. But we got better in a lot of respects.”
WSU next plays at 4 p.m. Jan. 15 at Washington (9-6, 3-1). The game will be televised on FSN. The Huskies won 57-53 on Saturday at Utah.