The Wallowa Cougars boys basketball team fell hard, 44-34, to the Imbler Panthers on Friday, Feb.7. The Cougs started out slow, missing a number of shots, many of them gimmees, which the Panthers had no problem converting to their own purposes.

In fact, the Panthers were not a better team. They did not have better or bigger athletes, but they came to play basketball. The Cougars’ boys played slow, seemingly without their heads in the game on offense.

By halftime, the Panthers had built up a solid, 26-11 lead. They came out of the locker room a few minutes early for drills, while the Cougs didn’t return until just before the game resumed.

Defensively, the Cougs played solid ball for the most part and had flashes of brilliance on offense. For example, the Cougs pulled within six, 26-20, with about 5:00 left in the third quarter. Note the 26-point Panthers’ total. Small potatoes.

Foul trouble also befell the Cougars with stars Tristin Bales and Kolby Mandal sitting out much of the third quarter after both getting their fourth fouls within a couple of minutes of each other, which left the Cougs’ defense and rebounding capabilities sagging.

The Panthers did not hesitate to take advantage of the momentary hard luck for the Cougars. They piled on the hurt, quickly building up their lead.

Not until the fourth quarter did Bales and Mandal rejoin the battle, and by then it was too late. Bales played valiant defense in an effort to stem the tide but collected his fifth and final foul with about two minutes remaining. Mandal put in a superb offensive effort as well.

Despite outscoring the Panthers 12- 7 in the final quarter, the curtains closed on the Cougs before the tide was reversed.

Coach Cody Lathrop said a number of factors went into the loss. He cited not only the loss of two key players due to foul trouble.

“We shot and shot and shot and shot, an we couldn’t hit that high post shot,” he said. “We executed, we just didn’t finish.

He added that the half-court trap that worked so well in practice didn’t pan out so well in game time, either.

Lathrop said the loss was a bitter pill to swallow because it made a trip to District that much more difficult to achieve.

“We have to stay the course and do the things we need to do,” he said. “You have to do the best you can.”

Bales led the scoring with 11 points while Mandal tossed in eight. Zeb Hermens added six to the cause. Mandal also collected nearly 20 rebounds. Quinten Tillery was also up in the teens with boards.

The Cougs next play at home versus Joseph on Friday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. They then travel to Griswold to meet the Grizzlies on the following day for their final regular season game.

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