Thursday’s Opening Night in the Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball proved to be a cruel experience for the favored.
First it was No. 2-ranked UCLA losing to Oregon. Then ninth-ranked Arizona bowed to Arizona State.
But the biggest surprise of a crazy evening might have come at Friel Court where a young Washington State team knocked off 17th-ranked California 83-71.
A surprisingly large and vocal holiday-break crowd of 5,267 turned out to watch the upset, which was engineered by WSU point guard Donminic Ellison.
Ellison, after being held to a single point in the first half, scored 25 after intermission and finished with a game- and career-high 26 points. Freshman forward Carlos Daniel added 13 points before fouling out with just less than 6 minutes left. Guards Shamon Antrum and Isaac Fontaine each added 12.
Mark Hendrickson, who was a dominate force on the boards, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds as the Cougars raised their overall record to 5-3.
Cal, which got 14 points from freshman Tremaine Fowlkes, 13 from junior K.J. Roberts and 12 from senior Monty Buckley, fell to 7-2.
The Bears seemed to have snatched the momentum away from WSU when Fowlkes’ 3-pointer with just less than 10 minutes left put them ahead 50-49.
But then Ellison put the Cougars on his shoulders and carried them to the upset victory.
The feisty 5-foot-10, 175-pounder scored 17 of WSU’s next 22 points to put them up 71-64 with 1:54 remaining. And from there, the Cougars widened their lead from the foul line.
Almost overshadowing Ellison’s splendid second-half play was some horrible officiating that kept coaches, fans and players guessing all night.
Both coaches, Cal’s Todd Bozeman and WSU’s Kevin Eastman, fired game-long salvos of menacing glares in the direction of Booker Turner, the Pac-10’s supervisor of officials, who was seated in the press section.
At one point midway through the second half, after Hendrickson as whistled for a phantom foul - his fourth - Eastman shouted and pointed in Turner’s direction.
Turner also got an earful from some Cougars fans seated nearby, but the potential situation cooled when Ellison ignited WSU’s late charge.
Ellison, whose mother, father and uncle watched the game after making the trip from Los Angeles, said his performance was nothing special.
“There’s been high expectations on me all year,” he said. “Being the young veteran that I am on this team, I just felt that it was my time to step up. The last three years, we’ve started 0-3 (in the Pac-10), and I didn’t want to do that again.”
Eastman said he saw signs of Ellison taking the next step in his development in practice this week.
“Now the next step for Don is a step he can definitely make,” Eastman said, “and that’s to lead when he’s not playing well. Leadership is earned, not given, and when it is finally earned, there is a tremendous amount of responsibility that goes with that position.”
Cal led at halftime, 34-33, despite making only six of 16 free throws and shooting poorly from the field.
The Bears started well with Buckley and K.J. Roberts each hitting 3-pointers to fuel an early 9-5 run. But WSU, sparked by freshman Carlos Daniel’s put-back dunk, answered with eight consecutive points and was ahead 14-11 after Hendrickson scored from inside about midway through the half.
It looked liked the Cougars had the momentum turned their way at that point, but Randy Duck drilled a 3-pointer for Cal and WSU’s David Vik was whistled for a pushing foul trying to position himself for the rebound.
That gave the Bears the ball again and this time Roberts drained a 3 to make it 17-14. The Cougars got a good look on their next possession, but a reverse layin by Hendrickson spun out and a transition bucket by Roberts just a few seconds later made it 19-14.
A three-point play by Daniel and a pair of free throws by Antrum cut into the Bears’ lead and a 6-point run two minutes later put the Cougars back on top 25-22.
Washington St. 83, California 71
CALIFORNIA (7-2) Buckley 4-11 3-4 12, Stewart 0-2 1-4 1, Jamison 1-5 0-4 2, Duck 3-12 1-4 9, Roberts 5-9 0-0 13, Grigsby 3-4 3-3 9, Gardner 4-14 1-2 9, McQueen 0-1 0-0 0, Fowlkes 5-11 3-9 14, Gonzalez 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 26-70 12-32 71.
WASHINGTON ST. (5-3)
Hendrickson 3-6 3-6 9, Fontaine 3-7 6-8 12, Daniel 5-5 3-3 13, Antrum 2-10 7-8 12, Ellison 5-9 14-16 26, Griffin 2-3 0-0 4, Corkrum 1-2 1-2 3, Vik 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 23-45 34-43 83.
Halftime-California 34, Washington St. 33. 3-Point goals- California 7-15 (Roberts 3-5, Duck 2-3, Fowlkes 1-2, Buckley 1-4, Gardner 0-1), Washington St. 3-12 (Ellison 2-4, Antrum 1-5, Hendrickson 0-1, Fontaine 0-1, Griffin 0-1). Fouled out-Buckley, Gardner, Daniel. Rebounds-California 46 (Fowlkes 10), Washington St. 38 (Hendrickson 10). Assists-California 7 (Gonzalez 2), Washington St. 16 (Ellison 6). Total fouls-California 31, Washington St. 20. A-5,267.