PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington State Cougars, hoping to boost attendance with many students out of town on Presidents’ Day weekend, offered 2-for-1 tickets for Sunday afternoon’s basketball game against the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats.
In hindsight, the rebuilding Cougars would have been better served drawing a big crowd for just about any opponent but the Wildcats.
Arizona led 53-19 at the half and cruised to an 86-59 victory in the Pac-12 Conference. A season-high crowd of 5,331 watched somberly as the athletic Wildcats systematically destroyed the home team at Beasley Coliseum.
“For us to one day get there and be a championship program, they sure give you an idea of what it needs to look like,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said.
Three Wildcats shared the team lead with 17 points — forwards Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and center Kaleb Tarczewski. Point guard T.J. McConnell added 14 points, eight assists and four steals.
“We’re capable of going to anyone on any night and getting a bucket,” McConnell said. “When we’re all scoring like that, we’re tough to beat.”
The Wildcats (22-3, 10-2 Pac-12) also are tough to beat when they play defense like they did in the first half. The Cougars shot just 26.7 percent in the half and went long stretches without a field goal.
WSU scoring leader DaVonte Lacy managed one point before intermission, and Arizona started a 19-1 run midway through the first half to take control of the game.
“On the defensive end, we locked down … (and) Washington State had a very ‘off’ first half,” McConnell said. “They played a lot better in the second half, like we thought they would.”
The Wildcats relaxed in the second half — “Lazy defense,” McConnell said — and the Cougars hit 63.6 percent of their shots. It was far too little far too late for the Cougars (11-14, 5-8), who shot 42.3 overall while permitting Arizona to shoot 57.1 percent.
“We were really, really worried coming into the game if we could guard them, because they push it so fast,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “They have great action, and obviously, DaVonte is a terrific scorer.
“We respect them a great deal, and I thought our first-half defensive performance says a lot about our defense.”
Miller handed out special praise for Tarczewski (6 for 6 from the field), Hollis-Anderson (8 for 9, with 10 rebounds) and Ashley (8 for 17, with eight rebounds). Kent added praise for McConnell.
“He’s a really, really, really smart point guard,” Kent said. “He really understands the system.”
Guard Dexter Kernich-Drew led the Cougars in scoring for the third straight game with 20 points. The senior, who struggled on offense most of the season, tied a career high by making six 3-pointers (in nine attempts). All but three of Kernich-Drew’s points came in the second half, and Lacy scored 17 of his 18 points in the final half.
“With us, it’s about scoring and shooting well and having our confidence,” Kent said. “We know our defense is not where it needs to be and hasn’t been all year with this group, unfortunately. But when you throw the combination of not defending and not shooting, now it’s very difficult to manufacture points in the game, especially against a team of that caliber that can score so easily.”
Arizona outrebounded the Cougars 44-23 and outscored WSU 46-12 in the paint.
Arizona has won eight in a row against Washington State, including a 60-25 romp last season in Tucson. The Wildcats, who were 38-0 against WSU from 1986-2005, lead the all-time series 59-16.
NOTES: Former Washington State coach George Raveling, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, has long maintained the WSU job was his favorite. “I always say, unequivocally, Washington State,” Raveling said Saturday after his Hall of Fame election was announced. “It was the best 11 years of my coaching career. That’s not to put down Iowa or USC.” The Cougars gave Raveling the first of his three head coaching jobs in 1972, when he became the first black head coach in Pac-12 (then the Pacific-8) Conference history. … Arizona F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a gifted athlete, has earned plenty of air time on television and the
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