Are Cougs setting up Pac-12 tourney run?

NOTHING BUT SMILES FOR WOOLRIDGE & COUGS OF LATE

PULLMAN -- A fast start and a second half fade. The narrative was all too familiar. The win over UCLA aside, a Cougar basketball regular season saddled with more heartache than happiness almost had to end the same way didn't it? Nope, not even close.

Not with Brock Motum and Royce Woolridge playing their best basketball of the season.

Not when coach Ken Bone's motion offense is suddenly frustrating the best teams in the conference.

Seventy-six points? A 25-point win?

I don't even know who you are anymore.

Washington State's (13-18, 4-14 Pac-12) 76-51 win Saturday at Beasley Coliseum over USC (14-17, 9-9), after knocking off conference champion UCLA, provided more evidence of a potential Wazzu run in the Pac-12 Tournament next week in Las Vegas.

It was also the perfect cap to the final home game of Motum's career. His 31 points and 10 rebounds pushed him past Mark Hendrickson for fifth all-time on WSU's scoring list on Senior Day.

The outcome appeared in doubt after the Trojans had shaved WSU's 19-point halftime lead to five with 13:00 left. The vocal 4,254 in attendance squirmed as the Cougars were suddenly pressing to score.

"We did not play very well those first six-to-eight minutes of the second half," Bone said. "But we stayed together and dealt with the situation, started making baskets and pretty soon we were in good shape."

Revert back to Woolridge, who's five treys and 25 points helped WSU bounce a Trojans team battling for seeding in the Pac-12 Tournament. He dropped 18 of the Cougars' last 24 points.

So just what exactly has gotten into a team that entered this week in the Pac-12 cellar?

"I think just the maturity of our guys and staying composed in tough situations," Bone said of the reason for the late-season resurgence. "We've had a lot of practice at it. I think our guys are starting to understand that teams are going to make runs. We just need to relax and continue to let the game come to us and it'll work out."

Oh and workout it did – like Richard Simmons at a mid-90s weight-loss seminar.

The Cougars held the Trojans to 33.9 percent shooting, converted 17-of-18 free throws and committed just five turnovers while dishing 18 assists.

Those searching for a blueprint for a successful Bone-coached team – look no further than this 25-point shellacking.

"I think we've lost so many games in crunch-time situations that now it's coming naturally," Woolridge said. "Now that we get that taste of what to do we know what to do."

"We hadn't been winning but we've been working really hard. All we needed was a taste of victory."

The final two wins could not have been much sweeter for Motum. He shot 11-of-22 from the field and knocked down all six of his free throws in his final game at Beasley Coliseum. His parents, sister and a few friends from Australia were in attendance to see the power forward help his Cougars bash the SoCal schools back down south.

"I'm bringing them to Vegas and anywhere else we go next time," he said. "I wish they would have come at the start of the year and stayed the whole time. It was a nice having them here."

It was better seeing Motum squash a season of frustration by going for 21 points in the first half.

After an "and-one" late in the frame, he pointed to the USC bench and gave them the one-finger "hush sign." Per Motum, Bob Cantu's Trojan team had been chirping at him all night.

"The play before that I faded into the bench after I missed a three and I sort of fell down," Motum said post-game with a smile. "A couple of guys were saying something. It was just heat-of-the-moment stuff. I made a play and was facing their bench and that was the first thing that came to my head."

The win propelled WSU to the 11th-spot in the conference and a Wednesday night match-up with the Washington Huskies. Motum went cliché when asked what it would mean to knock off a UW team who beat WSU 72-68.

"We've had two close games with them," he said. "Hopefully the third time's (more) lucky."

Pack your bags mom and pop.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Mike Ladd scored just one point in his first appearance since missing the past six games with knee inflammation. He scored just one point but distributed six assists and looked healthy in 27 minutes. Bone praised his senior two-guard afterwards.

  • Dexter Kernich-Drew was also at perhaps his best Saturday afternoon, again displaying more consistency at both ends of the court. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.

  • Motum has now scored in double figures in 31-straight games and has 1,502 in his WSU career. He trails Don Collins by 61 points for fourth on the Cougars' all-time scoring list.

  • The Cougars swept UCLA and USC at home for the first time since the 1992-1993 season.

  • WSU won the rebounding battle over USC by a 45-34 margin. On Wednesday, the Cougs bested the Bruins 46-23 on the boards.

  • Bone said Davonte Lacy's surgery on his right knee earlier this week to repair a torn meniscus went well.

  • The Cougars play at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the MGM Garden Arena. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.


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