DEXTER KERNICH-DREW: 9 POINTS, AND 1 BIG MISTAKE
PULLMAN -- After two halves and an explosive overtime, the Cougs fell just short to the Oregon Ducks by a final of 79-77. But that wasn’t what everyone was talking about after this one was over.
We'll get to Dexter Kernich-Drew in a minute. First though, the big picture.
Washington State hit several critical shots down the stretch. They also suffered a few costly blunders that eventually sunk the besieged Cougs. While the end result is still an ‘L’ in the record column, the Cougs can hold their heads high in a few respects.
The Cougs held the Ducks to a miniscule 27 first-half points, while combo-guard Royce Woolridge had already poured in a career high in points by intermission. In the end, the Cougs still hadn't found a way to execute the means necessary to leave with a ‘W’.
Woolridge would end with 36 points, accounting for almost half of WSU’s offense for the night.
“I’m here to win games,” Woolridge said. “I could care less to if I score two points. I’m upset about the loss but we’re going to keep grinding.”
The Cougs again took one of the best teams in the Pac-12 to the brink. While it goes down as another loss, the team’s sixth in a row, the Cougs are playing battle-tested basketball as of late. The record doesn’t show it, but the team is proving they may be the team no one wants to play come Pac-12 tournament time.
“It really is difficult,” said head coach Ken Bone after the loss. “Once again we’re right in the game, give (ourselves) an opportunity to win and we don’t get it done.”
The Cougs have now lost eight straight overtime games to Oregon, winless against the Ducks in extra time since 1967.
“We wanted and needed a win and Oregon is no different,” Bone said. “You’re battling for something at this time a year.”
Bone, clearly frustrated by the losing streak, said moral victories are out of the question and that the team has an obvious monkey on it’s back.
“Right now, a loss is a loss,” Bone said. “We made some critical mistakes down the stretch.”
None was bigger than in overtime after Woolridge poured in his final three-pointer, an awkwardly-contested shot that dropped for the Cougs that tied the game at 77-77. Following the splash, the boisterous crowd was silenced when Kernich-Drew, a redshirt sophomore, lost track of the score, committing an intentional foul around midcourt with just over three seconds on the clock. Kernich-Drew's fifth foul sent senior guard E.J. Singler, one of the conference's best free throw shooters, to the line for two free-throws.
Singler would sink both attempts and after a three-quarter-court heave from Woolridge that hit the side of the backboard, the game would end in defeat for the Cougs.
“I hit him and I feel bad about that,” joked Bone, blatantly trying to lighten the mood.
“No, he knows he made a mistake and feels bad about it,” Bone said. “He’s hurting -- he’s bummed out.”
Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman said mistakes like DKD’s happen in sports. He said his team was blessed tonight with the costly gaffe, adding it helped seal the game for the Ducks.
“It happens,” Altman said. “We were fortunate there.”
Kernich-Drew’s teammates were insistent that nobody can put this loss on DKD. The guys said there was a 45-minute battle that ensued on the court tonight and one transgression shouldn’t define the outcome of a game, and in this case, it didn’t.
“You can’t point fingers, it was just a mental mistake,” Woolridge said.
Senior Brock Motum agreed, stressing that it was one moment of a 45-minute ordeal, suggesting the game shouldn’t have come down to that moment as it did.
“It’s in the past now,” Motum said. “We’ve got to move on. In any game there’s not just one thing that defines any game. He needs to keep his head up and he’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
The team, though distraught after suffering another loss, seemed more upbeat in the sense that progress is being made. The message was resounding; if the team continues to practice hard and compete on a nightly basis, the wins will come.
“It may not look like it, but as a team, we’re inching closer to getting over that hump,” Motum said. “Once we get over that hump it will be good.”
Woolridge concurred, asserting the team was on the brink of turning a corner.
“We may not win every game, but we’re going to go out every night and fight,” Woolridge said. “We’ll be at practice Monday and we’ll keep grinding.”
The Cougs fell to 11-15 (2-11) on the season following the loss. The team still has five games remaining to gain some momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament, which takes place in Las Vegas beginning March 13.
Junior D.J. Shelton finished the night with nine points and ten rebounds falling just short of a double-double. Motum finished with twelve points and three rebounds while logging a team-high 42 minutes despite missing time with an apparent head/neck injury after being elbowed early on in the first half. The elbow resulted in Oregon’s Tony Woods being ejected from the game.
Bryce Leavitt again played sizeable minutes with Mike Ladd sidelined with a leg injury, recording 19 more minutes on his Pac-12 resume. Leavitt has now played 44 minutes in the past two games after recording just 13 minutes total in the previous 11 Pac-12 contests.
Oregon’s Singler tallied 25 points for the Ducks, 20 of which came after half-time.