It was ugly, this 58-49 defeat.
Royce Woolridge dribbled near the top of the key as the rest of the offense struggled to get into their offensive set. Brock Motum, facing another ferocious overplaying defender, couldn’t find open space. Mike Ladd, WSU’s most consistent performer during Pac-12 play, had no answer.
The result: a costly turnover from Woolridge, sealing WSU’s fourth loss in five Pac-12 contests.
Oh, but for an assist.
“We didn’t help the situation at all,” WSU head coach Ken Bone said after his team shot just 34.5 percent at Beasley Coliseum. “Especially in the last two minutes – I know we were frustrated with the fact that we weren’t scoring very well. We had a hard time getting good shots. When we did get good looks down the stretch we weren’t making very many shots.
“I think we let the frustration get the best of us.”
Grating as it was to watch the Cougars commit just six assists while surrendering 12 turnovers, Bone’s outfit was actually positioned to capture its second consecutive win after a trio of fantastic plays from Woolridge netted a 31-27 advantage early in the second half.
Cue the down-the-stretch doldrums, which again plagued a team searching for an offensive identity. After WSU (10-8, 1-4 Pac-12) held a brief 37-35 lead, the Buffaloes (12-6, 2-4 Pac-12) ran off seven consecutive points and the Cougars couldn’t respond. Brock Motum played 38 minutes, Ladd 34 and Woolridge 31.
None were willing to blame fatigue for the defeat, but Bone said forcing his leaders to play big minutes didn’t help.
“I have to look at myself,” Bone said. “Our guys showed fatigue at the end of the game and that was unfortunate. I thought fatigue played a factor in the outcome.”
Colorado took advantage, knocking down 47.8 percent of their shots in the second half.
WSU has now lost games against Gonzaga, Pepperdine, UW, Stanford, Cal, Texas A&M in which they held a second- half lead.
“I feel like it’s fixable,” Ladd said. “It’s something we are working on. It all starts in practice by getting after it and getting better.”
Woolridge hinted the answer was simpler.
“It is what it is,” he said. “We basically just need to get stops and have more poise towards the end of the game. There’s going to be times where we make shots and there is going to be times where we miss shots.”
WSU shot 5-for-24 from beyond-the-arc and no starter outside Ladd looked comfortable against Tad Boyle’s team. He and Motum both finished with 13 points, though it took the Aussie 16 shots to fall well below his season average. The 19-4 free throw edge for the Buffs didn’t give the 5,418 scattered across Beasley much reason to leave their seats, either.
“I’d say we have a lot of room for improvement,” Motum said. “Not in the big scheme of things but just in minute details. Once we get that figured out the rest will sort of flow.”
WSU will need to attain some semblance of offensive continuity if they wish to avoid a road-thrashing Wednesday against Oregon (Pac-12 Networks, 6:30 p.m.) Dana Altman’s club is rolling after sweeping the SoCal schools on the road this week -- no one in the Pac-12 is hotter right now than the Ducks.
Bone said there will be no easy answers as teams continue to lockdown their leading scorer. Making more shots would be a nice start.
“You hope (the ball) goes in but if you’re doing the right things to create opportunities for yourself then that’s what we want every possession,” he said. “If we don’t make those shots some nights are like that. There was a little bit of that that tonight.”
Perhaps the most telling stat: Brock Motum led the Cougars with two assists.
Woolridge was the reason the Cougs were in this one in the second half. He had a brief, but furious stretch where he nailed a three-pointer, scored a layup and was directly responsible for two Colorado turnovers. But like the Cougars season, it was all too brief a momentum changer.
Will DiIorio again played well at home Saturday, finishing with an efficient eight points on 3-4 shooting. He played 24 minutes in relief of D.J. Shelton. Shelton missed all seven of his shot attempts, totaled five rebounds and committed a turnover.
Davonte Lacy again struggled from the field. He went just 2-7, missed a trio of three-point attempts and finished with four points.
Motum moved into sole possession of 14th on WSU’s all-time career scoring list, passing Larry Beck…he now has 1,276 career points and is just 9 points away from Carlos Daniel in 13th place.