PULLMAN, Wash. – Welcome to the Palouse, where it’s cold – in and out of the arena.
Snow flurries outside; tepid inside – at least from the University of Arizona basketball team.
Add timid to the list for the Wildcats, too. And this from a team that recently won seven in a row.
Arizona (18-10, 8-7) couldn’t hit much of anything in the second half against Washington State on its way to a second consecutive loss, falling 69-53 to the Cougars.
“We were playing timid in the second half,” said UA’s Nice Wise. “We weren’t attacking or being aggressive like we were in the first half.”
And it doesn’t get any easier. First-place Washington looms on Saturday. The Wildcats and the No. 21-ranked Huskies meet at 1 p.m. in Seattle.
UA interim coach Russ Pennell said part of the Wildcats’ problem Thursday as a team – and more specifically with Chase Budinger – was that it seemed to press too much internally, trying to do too much.
“You get behind and at times you can try too hard, where you start (thinking) ‘I’ll take it on myself,’ ” Pennell said. “I’d lean more toward that than (having) a fear or playing timid.”
WSU hit 17 of 25 shots after trailing 29-26 at halftime.
“It was like two different games,” Pennell said.
“They shot the lights out and I got in foul trouble,” said UA’s Jordan Hill, who had 15 points and nine rebounds but also played with four fouls over the final eight minutes. “There’s nothing more to say.”
Arizona, which was coming off a close loss to Arizona State on Sunday, has lost three of the past six games against Washington State after dominating the series for two decades.
“Time to shake it off,” Hill said. “It’s not over yet. We have more games to go.”
It is a tough blow. UA stays stuck on 18 wins in an attempt to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
It’s the biggest victory for WSU – by margin – in the series since it beat UA 86-64 in 1983, the season before former UA coach Lute Olson arrived.
“There was a level of toughness in the second half that was good,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “We had a presence out there that we’ve been waiting for.”
UA couldn’t stop some relative unknowns. WSU freshman DeAngelo Casto, whose season high was 10 points, scored 11. And senior Caleb Forrest, whose season high was 19, had 15. Taylor Rochestie added 17.
UA has only won two games on the road this season in the Pac-10 in eight attempts. Both of those wins came on its Oregon trip.
“We learned again how difficult it is to win on the road in this league,” Pennell said. “It’s been an Achilles’ heel for us. We’ll get one more try at it.”
Arizona had problems scoring against one of the nation’s top defensive teams. UA’s points came mostly from its big three of Budinger, Wise and Hill. The three combined for 41 points. Wise led UA with 17 points. Hill added 15 and Budinger had nine.
Adding to the misery, Budinger looked like he suffered a thigh injury on a shot attempt with 37.7 seconds left.
He is said to be fine after not being made available to the media after the game.
UA held a 27-16 lead with five minutes left in the first half, but then scored only one basket the rest of the half.
Over the final 25 minutes, WSU (15-13, 7-9) outscored the Wildcats 53-26.
“We had a chance to really make a move,” Pennell said, referring to late in the first half. “But we just turned it over a couple of times and we didn’t seize the opportunity.
“From that point on, they got hot. They’re a good shooting team when that happens. And they’ll do to you what they did. You could kind of sense something changed with five minutes left in the half.”
Hill said the explanation is easy.
“Our defense wasn’t there and they took advantage of it,” he said.
Arizona (18-10, 8-7) at No. 21 Washington (21-7, 12-4)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM
By the numbers
4 players who scored in double figures for WSU. UA had two.
9 more rebounds WSU had over UA at 34-25
68 percent WSU shot in the second half (17 of 25)
UA had a 27-16 lead but was then outscored by WSU 29-8 in a 17-minute stretch over the first and second half.