After every loss, they’ve said it. “We can compete with anybody… We just let this one get away.”
The Cougars nearly validated those statements Wednesday night, but like so many games this season, they let another one get away – falling to the No. 16 ranked and conference-leading Oregon Ducks 68-61 at Matthew Knight Arena.
From the opening tip, the Cougars were the game’s aggressors, setting the tempo with energy and poise. That energy had the team up by seven early, as senior guard Mike Ladd set the tempo with a transition dunk, and he would finish with 19 points to lead the Cougars.
Ladd scored 14 first-half points, while the team followed suit, shooting 7-13 from three-point range in the half. The Cougars also led the Ducks 10-2 in fast break points in the half.
Oregon tried to combat that aggressiveness by showing a full-court press several times in the first half, eventually forcing consecutive Cougar turnovers to stay in the game.
However, Ladd finished the half as he started it, scoring an acrobatic put-back shot that capped a 10-point, 39-29 lead going into halftime.
The script then flipped in the second half. Despite the Cougars' hot start, the Ducks quickly erased the insurance WSU had built in the first half.
The Ducks matched the Cougars’ first-half intensity, while WSU didn’t score a single field goal until more than five minutes had passed in the half.
After an 8-0 run to start the second half, capped by a furious dunk by Carlos Emory, the Ducks cut the Cougar lead to one at 39-38. But the Cougars quickly responded with a 5-0 run of their own thanks to a three-point running layup by senior forward Brock Motum.
The Cougars soon ran out of answers, and the Ducks began to look more like the nationally recognized team they are and less like the lethargic group that showed up in the first half.
Senior forward E.J. Singler led the Oregon attack, scoring eight straight points to take the Ducks’ first lead of the contest to 48-46 with 11:45 remaining in the game. Singler led the Ducks with 19 points on the night.
Redshirt sophomore guard Royce Woolridge responded for the Cougars on a fast break attempt to steal back a 53-52 lead with 7:19 to play. But the Ducks would not go down on this night, regaining the lead for good.
After shooting a blistering 54 percent from three-point range in the first half, the Cougars failed to make a single three-pointer in the second, going 0-11 in the half. WSU also couldn’t connect on free throws down the stretch, shooting only 2-6 from the foul stripe in the game’s final minutes.
While Oregon remains unbeaten in Pac-12 play, the Cougars fall to 1-5 in the conference. They’ll look to rebound on Saturday against the Oregon State Beavers.