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Cougars Pounce On Cats

Cats NCAA Hopes Rained on

By Lance Epstein

TUCSON, Ariz.—For the first time all year, the Wildcats (12-11, 6-5) have been swept on a weekend series. Washington State (15-8, 5-6) knocked the UA out of first place and one game behind California for the Pac-10 lead with a 78-60 victory.

DeAngelo Casto flexed his muscles by doubling his season average in scoring 19 points, collecting nine rebounds (four offensive rebounds) and blocked three shots to snap the Cougars three game losing streak. Not only did Casto dominate the Wildcats inside the paint, so did the Cougars as a team.

WSU outrebounded the UA 33-22 and had plenty of second chance points in part to 12 offensive rebounds. Also the Cougars generated 15 more free throw attempts from their tenacity to get offensive rebounds.

“The free throw differential was really the story line of the game and they earned their trip to the foul line,” Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller said.

Along with outrebounding the Cats, the Cougars defensive silenced the Wildcats offense, causing 14 turnovers and holding UA to 42.3 field goal percentage for the game.

Even with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore kept below their season averages, both being held to just 12 points, the Wildcats defense had no answer. In fact, Thompson did not score his first points of the game until there was 10:55 left in the first half. The Cougars scorched the Wildcats defensive, shooting 51 percent for the game.

The Wildcats came out of the gate roaring on a 12-4 run, making 5-of-6 shots. Wise had a quick five points and Arizona seemed poised to rebound in Pullman.

As hot as the Wildcats were, they quickly went into an ice-cold. The rest of the first half the Wildcats combined to shoot 4-of-21 (19 percent) from the field.

Down 12-4, Wazzu looked to their bench for some instant offense. Xavier Thames kick-started the Cougars offense and sparked them to a 14-4 run with a rapid five points. Junior Arizona forward, Jamelle Horne hit a NBA range three-pointer give the Wildcats their last lead of the game at 19-18.

Arizona’s one point margin would be short lived as the Cougars held Arizona scoreless for five plus minutes. During this stretch, WSU managed only to score six points, which kept the Wildcats in the game.

Derrick Williams then hit a three to cut the lead down to 24-22. At this point, Williams had only one rebound and three points on five shots. (Williams finished the game with 16 points and seven rebounds). Momo Jones tied the game up at 24 with two free throws with 3:19 left.

Once the Wildcats tied the game up, the Cougars did what all good teams do at the end of the half, go on a run. Washington State Head Coach, Ken Bone looked to their bench, particularly Brock Motum who chipped in four points on WSU’s 8-2 run to take the 32-26 lead at the half.

Washington State outscored UA bench 15-to-2 to begin the game. More puzzling was that Motum finished with 10 points off the bench and singled handedly outscored the Wildcats bench 10-to-7. The puzzling factor is what happened to Arizona’s bench that contributed 40 points up in Seattle?

The second half started much like the end of the first half as WSU looked to star forward Klay Thompson, unheralded Serbian forward Nikola Koprivica and Motum to pounce on the Wildcats. The Cougars continued to assert their strength on the boards and at the defensive end. WSU scored the first seven points of the second half and Arizona found themselves down 13 points.

Finally, the Wildcats scored as Pac-10 frontrunner for freshmen of the year, Williams and Wise began attack the basket on the offensive end. Wise and Williams combining on seven of the next nine Arizona points to leave WSU up by 5, 40-35 with 15:13 left.

Again as Arizona began to slowly creep back into the game, the Cougars countered. After a WSU timeout, Motum found himself open on the baseline, went up for a dunk attempt that UA’s William had a partial blocked. But as much of the night went for the Wildcats, the ball fell in the basket; sparking the Cougars to an 8-2 run and a 48-37 lead.

“We didn’t have enough,” Miller said. “Every time we made that run, we weren’t able to go back out there and keep it going. We went back out there, and they just extended the lead and they were just the better team tonight.”

For the next four minutes the teams exchanged baskets with the Wildcats outscoring the Cougars 10-to-9. However, with 7:49 left in the game, Arizona sophomore guard Kyle Fogg was not going to allow any easy baskets. Fogg used a hard foul on Thompson’s fastbreak layup attempt. After the officials huddled around the monitor, they ruled the foul to be a flagrant foul. Thompson made 1-of-2 free throws. Wazzu received the ball out of bounce and Casto hit a contended hook shot over Williams to extend the lead to 60-47.

“That’s a tough one, because I certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Miller said. “I thought Kyle made a real hard play on the ball. Sometimes when you do that, you have two players running as fast as you can. It ends up looking worse than the intent but it’s all part of the game. It happens to us and happens to the other team.”

At the 7:40 mark of the second half, the Cats found themselves down 13. Arizona’s freshmen revealed the unwillingness and buoyancy that had them tied for first in the Pac-10. Williams hit an improvable straight away banked a shot, drew the foul and completed the three-point play. The Cougars countered by draining two more free throws.

Then Solomon Hill ignited a 6-0 UA run by pulling down one of Arizona’s few offensive rebounds and reached the free throw line. Fogg followed with an acrobatic layup and an assist to Williams for a layup in transition.

With WSU up 62-56 and just 5:07, the Wildcats self-destructed and made critical mistakes. Williams bailed out WSU’s Moore with three seconds on the shot clock, and had nowhere to go with the ball. Since, WSU was in the double bounce, Moore got two free throws and delivered on both to enlarge the lead to eight.

On the ensuing inbounce pass, Horne lazily tossed the ball to Wise, who did not anticipate the ball. The ball rolled out of bounce and as a result Koprivica nailed a three-point jumper that became the deathblow to Arizona.

Moore and Koprivica’s five straight points sparked the Cougars to a 15-4 run to close the game and an 18-point victory.

Heading into the game, Arizona was 1-4 on the season in the first game of the Pac-10 weekend series. However, what allowed them to stay nearly the top of the standings was the perfect 5-0 on the second game of the weekend series (Pac-10 plays Thursday and Saturday games). This prevented them from being swept.

A loss to the Huskies can be expected but the 18-point shellacking to the Cougars comes as a big-time shock. The enthusiasm, grittiness and heart the Wildcats have verified them as a team over the past month seemed not existent.

“It was a learning experience for all of us,” Derrick Williams said. “There were a lot of bus rides, planes stuff like that but we can’t blame it on that. We’ve just got to come out to play.”

Maybe, it was a letdown game after a hard-fought and physically draining game with the Huskies. But watching the Cougars dominate Arizona on the offensive boards for the second time this season, it is obvious: the Cougars matchup favorably against Arizona.

“Watching the film you’ll have a better perspective, and (it showed) we didn’t lose to Washington for a lack of effort,” Miller said. “Then we came down here and to me they were just so much more physical in and around the basket.”

Besides Williams’ seven boards, no other Wildcat had five rebounds. On the other hand, the Cougars had three players with five or more rebounds.

Along with the Cougars being an unfavorable foe, the trip to Washington showed an uncharacteristic club, which turned the ball over 34 times (average of 17 turnovers a game). In contrast, during the Wildcats four-game winning streak they averaged only 12.5 turnovers again.

The Wildcats must not let this hiccup snowball into a four game losing streak. Oregon and Oregon State come to Tucson this week and are extremely winnable games for Arizona.

Miller is too good of a coach to let the Wildcats dwell on these losses. He will remind his team that a sweep of the Oregon schools is what matters most. Although with California playing Washington on Thursday night, Arizona might find themselves in first place once again if they take care of business.

After the loss, Miller seemed to imply he would use any tacit necessary to get his team back on the right track.

“We’re not going to change what we do but there’s some guys who are going to have to earn it,” Miller said. “We could juggle the lineup or we could not. The next four or five days will be the telltale sign of that.”

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