Washington St. head coach Ken Bone had a game plan for Baylor’s 6’10″ two-headed Jones beast down low, Anthony and Perry. Bone used a 2-3 zone effectively throughout the game, limiting the Bears to 37 percent shooting, including 4/22 from 3-point range.
In the first half, Baylor was only shooting 29 percent with zero percent coming from beyond the arc.
“[We used the 2-3 zone] for a number of reasons. One, playing three games in four days is hard. Two, we’ve had some success with zone, and Baylor has not shown at this point of the season that they’re a great shooting team,” Bone said.
“We just kind of looked at the pros and cons and thought ‘you know what, let’s start out zone and see how the game goes, and take it step by step.’ But we showed pretty well in the first half so we stuck with it.”
At halftime, the Cougars led 39-26 behind their own hot shooting. Washington St. was 5/8 from downtown and shot 54 percent from the field in the first half. Seven players had already scored, and the Cougars matched the Bears with 10 defensive rebounds despite their height disadvantage.
Though the Bears are known for their physicality and size, the Washington St. big men were extremely tough in the paint. The team’s leading scorer, Klay Thompson, who finished with 20 points, said, “A lot of credit goes to our bigs down low, [DeAngelo] Casto and [Brock] Motum. They fought hard, and we need that every game. They did a really great job finishing today.”
The Cougars led by as many as 20 points. Baylor was playing a 1-3-1 zone to no avail; the half-court game didn’t suit the Bears’ style of play, so at the 12-minute mark, head coach Scott Drew switched to a man-to-man defense.
At that point, Baylor was trailing 59-43. The Bears then went on a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 59-58 with 8:37 left. Playing a man-to-man defense allowed the Bears to speed the game up, which led to several transition baskets and free throws in that stretch.
However, the Cougars didn’t fold. “I think that shows a sign of our maturity this year. Last year, we might have folded. This year, now, giving up a 20-point lead, we didn’t let that get to our heads,” Thompson said. “We’ve got so many good players and such a good coached team so that when we face adversity like that, we’re not going to fold. We’re going to stay strong and keep coming back at you.”
Bone added, “When they made their run, it felt like we were folding because they caught up to us, but I really liked the way we persevered and handled that adversity. I thought the character we showed by being up 18 or 19, and losing that lead to a team the caliber of Baylor, was a great step for our program.”
Washington St. also reviewed the Gonzaga vs. Baylor tape thoroughly. In that game, the Bulldogs managed to hold the Bears to 37 percent shooting, including 2/12 from 3-point range.
“It really helped because we had already played Gonzaga, and we know Gonzaga well, so it’s probably more efficient to watch teams play when you already know their personnel to gauge different stuff going on,” Bone said.
Baylor’s sharpshooting guard, LaceDarius Dunn, entered the game 25/50 on the season from beyond the arc. The Cougars held Dunn to four points, including 0/8 shooting from 3-point land in the first half. Dunn blew up in the second half to finish with 29 points, and was a perfect 12/12 at the free-throw line.
Bone knew it was only a matter of time before Dunn found his stroke. He said, “He’s a great player, and finally, at the end, he got it going. If this game would’ve been 45 minutes, I’m not sure we could’ve stopped him.”
Fortunately for Bone and the Cougars, the game only lasted 40 minutes. Thompson, Faisal Aden, and Casto each made two free throws in the last 33 seconds to seal the win. The Cougar-dominated crowd chanted “overrated” in the waning seconds.
Washington St. will now play the winner of the other semifinal game between Butler and Florida St. “This one feels real good,” Thompson said. “There’s notoriety for this win, but we still got one more. We’ll celebrate it tonight, but we’ll come back tomorrow and have two good practices before we play.”