The college basketball season hums along through November and December, and a lot of it goes largely unnoticed, as teams sprinkle games with directional schools among a handful of competitive opponents. In the dozen or so games of each team, we perceive some order and believe we can project what lies ahead.
Then the start of Pac-12 basketball happens, and as usual, the first night is explosive.
You might remember four years ago, when Ken Bone coached his first conference game at Washington State. The Cougars led most of the way, got a would-be winning basket from DeAngelo Casto with a fraction of a second on the clock, and when players took to the floor to celebrate it, they were whistled for a technical foul (wrongly so, in the opinion of national officials coordinator John Adams). Oregon tied the game on the technical and then won in double overtime.
Last year brought Colorado’s courageous effort in Tucson in the league opener, and a buzzer-beating three by Sabatino Chen that was waved off by officials, again controversially. Arizona won in overtime.
And then Thursday night.
– Oregon downed Utah in overtime, 70-68, in an astonishingly wild finish. The winning basket came from Damyean Dotson on a breakaway dunk with six-tenths of a second left, but almost lost in the whole thing was how close the game came to having two baskets scored in those last six-tenths.
To recap, Utah had the ball out of bounds at side court with 6.5 seconds left. It got the ball at about the right elbow to big man Dallin Bachynski, who threw an ill-advised pass across the key toward Jordan Loveridge. It was tipped away, and the Ducks hustled the ball to Dotson, who jammed it at that six-tenths-second mark.
Only one problem. Four Ducks had rushed into forecourt, three of them (including Dotson) near the basket. An alert Ute, Dakarai Tucker, inbounded and slung a terrific, 75-foot diagonal pass to Loveridge, who had time to hoist a 20-foot, uncontested three from the left wing that would have won it. But it went long and Oregon survived.
– Washington went into Arizona State and did what it always seems to do to Arizona State — sent the Sun Devils into a funk. A year ago, you might recall, ASU was harboring dreams of the NCAA tournament when the UW came in Feb. 23 as an underdog and basically controlled the entire night, winning 68-59. That proved to be a death knell for ASU’s NCAA aspirations.
This was the eighth straight UW win over ASU (you can fairly say Lorenzo Romar has Herb Sendek’s number) and if the Huskies can bring it the rest of the season like they did on this night, they’ll prove my 10th-place pick of them wrong. They didn’t resemble the team that plodded through the pre-conference schedule without a noteworthy win, and struggled to beat some very ordinary teams.
– Then there were the Cougars, who lost 60-25 in Tucson, and Dick Bennett wasn’t even coaching them. The AP story mistakenly (there’s a shocker) said it was the fewest points scored by WSU since it tallied 25 against Idaho in 1938.
Not so. It’s only their fewest since 1941.
According to the WSU press guide, the Cougars beat Idaho, 25-23, on Jan. 18, 1941 under Jack Friel (if that was an inauspicious night, it was also the Cougar team that went on to the NCAA final game).
Two years before that, in 1939, the Cougars also had a 27-18 loss to Idaho.
Yes, you can point to the absences of two key players, DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew, as having a lot to do with the abominable offensive night. No doubt that with Lacy playing, it wouldn’t have been so historically bad.
But . . . two points here (something the Cougars regularly whiffed on). It’s singularly shocking in itself that none of Bennett’s teams at WSU, when he was establishing the foundation for his son Tony, never scraped bottom as badly as Bone’s team did Thursday night. In his first year, WSU lost to Fresno State, 46-29. A year later, in the flashpoint game for the magnitude of the rebuilding process, Oklahoma State beat WSU, 81-29, and in his third and final season, the senior Bennett had some truly bad nights — a 50-30 loss to UCLA, and then a three-game stretch in which in which WSU scored 37, 41 and 37 points. (As God is my witness, in a 67-37 loss to Oregon, WSU led the Ducks at the second TV timeout, 1-0).
The bigger point is that — Lacy playing or not, even if you’re facing the No. 1 team in the nation — this is the kind of game that will be a major albatross for Bone’s future if WSU doesn’t start to win some Pac-12 games. If you can’t win, at least be competitive. And if you’re not competitive, at least don’t be historically bad. Scoring 25 points tends to get you remembered, not in a good way.
From what I could tell, WSU appeared to be playing with effort. You could read that as either encouraging or alarming.