THIS TIME, THE Cougs came all the way back -- and still lost. Down by 12 to Oregon in the second half, Washington State, led in large part by a high-flying Marcus Capers, erased the entire deficit and then some. But with the chance to put the game away in regulation, and to build a good-sized lead in overtime, WSU failed miserably at the free throw line.
WITH WEDNESDAY night's 82-80 overtime loss to Oregon in the play-in game of the Pac-10 Tournament, Washington State solidified its standing as the conference's worst team, but facts are facts: they still could be headed to the post-season. Between the NCAA, NIT, CBI and CIT tournaments, 129 teams from across the land get to continue their seasons.
The Cougars currently have an RPI ranking of No. 156, which could preclude a bid, but there are lots of factors that go into these invitations -- including what conference you play in -- so WSU should have a chance. Don't forget that last season Oregon State was 13-17 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-10 -- and they went on to not only play in, but win the CBI Tourney.
The pecking order for the post-season goes like this: 65 teams to the Big Dance, 32 to the NIT, 16 to the CBI and then 16 more to the CIT. For ye of little knowledge of the fledgling tourneys, CBI stands for College Basketball Invitational and CIT stand for College Insider.com Tournament.
AGAINST OREGON on Wednesday, (after cutting double digit leads to a single point against both Oregon schools in the regular season's final week and then falling short), the Cougs stormed back to take a three point lead and had the game in their hands. But they couldn't buy a free throw when it counted.
It looked for all the world like the Cougs had it sewn up in regulation. After the furious comeback netted a 69-68 Cougar lead, DeAngelo Casto swatted a shot attempt, Nikola Koprivica chased down the rebound and found a streaking Marcus Capers for an emphatic two-handed slam.
There weren't enough people in the Staples Center to blow the roof off the place but the Cougar fans in attendance sure tried.
But with WSU up 71-68, both teams went into a funk -- Oregon couldn't make a bucket and the Cougs missed the front end of two one-on-ones.
Oregon woke up first. Still, it was 72-70 Cougs, and Oregon had the ball and 5.5 seconds left. Oregon missed but a tip-in at the buzzer sent it into overtime. Oregon scored the first four points of the extra frame before WSU cranked it up again.
A Capers' put back was followed by a Casto bucket (he missed a free throw to give WSU the lead). Koprivica hit a twisting shot from a tough angle completing the 6-0 run. But Oregon tied it again. Casto hit one of two free throws, but Oregon took the lead back the next time down the floor.
Reggie Moore followed with one of two from the line and instead of a Cougar lead, the game was again tied. A touch foul on WSU gave Oregon two shots at the line and they, unlike the Cougars, didn't miss. WSU's last second shot by Moore, after he couldn't find an open Cougar, was off target as the buzzer sounded.
CAPERS, WITH A dizzying array of dunks, and a few jumpers, went for 16 points, one of five Cougs in double figures. Klay Thompson was the Cougs' leading scorer, with 20 points. All his made buckets (6-13) were 3-pointers (6-9).
DeAngelo Casto had 13 points but was a woeful 5-13 from the line. He wasn't the only Coug who had free throw troubles -- Wazzu was a collective 12-25 from the charity stripe. Brock Motum scored 14 points on 6-10 shooting.
But no one was quite so clutch as the Cougs' lone senior, Nikola Koprivica. He hit the trey that tied the game at 66-66 with 4:24 left in regulation and nailed another from long distance that gave WSU the lead, 69-68, with 3:03 left. Both shots hit nothing but net and the second came off a Capers assist where the Cougar swingman had drawn three Ducks to him along the baseline.
In the end, however, it wasn't enough.
Capers' 16 points were a career high. Motum set two career highs, with five rebounds and 14 points.