PITTSBURGH – At full strength, Washington State coach Ken Bone liked his chances against Pittsburgh in the College Basketball Invitational finals.
An injury to star forward Brock Motum never gave the Cougars the chance.
With the Pacific-12 Conference’s leading scorer watching from the bench in a black sweatsuit after injuring his ankle in the semifinals against Oregon State, the Cougars fell to the Panthers, 71-65, on Friday night to lose the best-of-three finals.
When asked how much he was forced to change things with his best player out, Bone just shook his head.
“A lot,” he said. “It was just trying to tweak this, tweak that right on down to the last few plays of the game.”
Reggie Moore led Washington State (19-18) with 18 points, but the Cougars had trouble stopping Pitt even though the Panthers played without star senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who missed the final two games of his college career with an ankle injury.
Tray Woodall scored 17 points and added seven assists, while tournament MVP Lamar Patterson had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Talib Zanna continued his strong postseason by finishing with 12 points and five rebounds for the Panthers (22-17), who salvaged a disappointing year by winning their first postseason tournament.
“This season wasn’t a great season,” Woodall said. “We just wanted to finish on a high note. We all wanted to play more games. We didn’t want to end our season on a low note.”
Pitt shot 50 percent from the floor and turned it over just three times. The Panthers broke it open with a 12-2 run midway through the second half, and the Cougars would get no closer than six the rest of the way.
“It’s obviously not the tournament we’re used to being in, but we battled and the kids wanted to do more this year,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “They didn’t feel they had done what they set out to do.”
It helped not having to worry about the 6-foot-10 Motum.
With the lane wide open, Zanna and Patterson went to work. Zanna, a sophomore forward, struggled during the regular season but found his footing in the CBI, scoring in double digits in five of Pitt’s six games in the tournament.
Zanna was never better than during the game-turning run. The teams were tied at 44 when Pitt’s JJ Moore was fouled during a 3-point attempt. He hit the first two free throws but missed the third. Zanna tipped the ball away from two Washington State players to extend the possession and then finished it with a dunk off a feed from Woodall. He later hit a nifty hook shot to push the lead to 52-45 before Woodall found him for another dunk to make it 56-46 with 9 minutes, 20 seconds to play.
Washington State’s Mike Ladd ended the run with a layup, but Woodall drained an 18-footer as the shot clock expired on Pitt’s next possession and the Panthers were on their way to claiming the title.
“It was just miscommunication on the defensive end,” Ladd said.
Dixon had hoped for a bid to the NIT but accepted one to the CBI feeling it would help his young roster improve. The Panthers rolled into the finals and showed some maturity.
Patterson averaged 11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists during the series to prevent the Cougars – who lost in the NIT semifinals a year ago – from claiming the CBI championship.
“We went through our ups and downs during the season,” Woodall said. “We’ve got to be ready next year. We know the mistakes we made this year. We’ve got to be ready for next year, and this is great preparation.”