JARED CUNNINGHAM: 18 points
OREGON STATE DUG themselves a hole, a big one against, Washington State. After trailing by a mile in the first half, the Beavers battled back and made the Cougs nervous, closing the deficit to just four points with 7:31 remaining. But OSU could get no closer, and fell 84-70 in suffering their first Pac-10 loss.
WSU led by as many as 19 but the Beavers (7-7 overall, 2-1 conference), who stunned nearly everyone with wins against both Arizona schools -- after losing against schools such as Seattle and Texas Southern in nonconference play -- cut their deficit to 61-57 on a 3-pointer by guard Ahmad Starks.
Enter Klay Thompson.
He secured the Wazzu win through his typical scoring prowess with a game-high 29 points and teamwork. Thompson started a 6-0 WSU run when he found junior center DeAngelo Casto underneath for a dunk. Later it was Thompson’s own emphatic dunk that gave WSU a 69-59 lead — one that would remain in double figures for the remainder of the contest.
Jared Cunningham scored 18 points and Lathen Wallace 12 for the Beavers. Big man Joe Burton, so effective in the win over Arizona, played 21 minutes and scored eight points.
The Cougars did not mince words when discussing how important a victory was. Coach Ken Bone called it a “pivotal time” this week, while point guard Reggie Moore insisted it was a “must win.” After all, the 1993-94 squad was the only team in program history that reached the NCAA Tournament after starting conference play 0-3.
WSU (11-4, 1-2), which next plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Oregon (TV: FSN-NW), appeared poised to blow out OSU in the first half. The Cougars broke a tie at 8 with a 9-0 run and extended their lead to 41-22 on a 3-pointer by junior wing Thompson with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half.
“We need to play more confident,” Bone said. “I thought we did that early in the game.”
But WSU, which converted 7 of 14 3-pointers during the first 20 minutes, did not make another field goal for the remainder of the half. And the Beavers closed to 42-30 at the intermission.
The Cougars were successful against OSU early, but floundered when the Beavers switched to their trademark 1-3-1 zone in the waning minutes of the first half.
OSU, which entered the game second nationally in steals, maintained that defense to start the second half and edged its way back into the game through 19 WSU turnovers and 18 offensive rebounds.
“I was a little disappointed in our toughness inside,” Bone said. “They started scoring points on second-chance opportunities and getting to the free-throw line.”
Capers said he and his teammates were trying to force passes, but also noted that basketball simply “is a game of runs.” He also pointed out the Cougars maintained their composure late, though. WSU made 8 of its last 9 field goals.
“When we got a little more aggressive and kept our spacing, we knocked down some shots,” Bone said.
THE COUGARS NOW are 3-2 against OSU during coach Craig Robinson’s tenure at the school. Much of that starts with shooting. WSU shot 51 percent from the field Thursday.
The Cougars had mixed results against the Beavers’ zone last season. In a 65-60 win at Friel Court, they shot 51.2 percent as Moore converted 7 of 13 field goals en route to a game-high 19 points. Later in the season in Corvallis, Moore was 0 of 8 from the field — he finished with 10 points — as WSU made just 37.5 percent of its shots in a 59-55 loss.
This time, Moore, who started despite the announcement that he was arrested this week in connection with marijuana possession charges from December, was able to take advantage of the defense college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy ranked the Beavers as the least efficient team in the conference at that end at 160th nationally. Moore had 11 points and nine assists against OSU. In addition to Moore and Thompson, juniors Faisal Aden (15) and Marcus Capers (12) also scored in double figures.
“I really liked the way we shared the ball,” Bone said.
WSU ended a three-game losing streak in the process. It was WSU’s first game at Friel Court since a 81-59 win Dec. 8 against Gonzaga.
“It was really nice to sleep in my own bed,” Capers said. “I never thought I would miss the snow this much.”
WSU students remained on break, but the official attendance was 5,849.
“It was a lot of energy,” Capers quipped, “even out of the old folks.”