PULLMAN – It didn’t matter if it looked a lot more like Jackson Pollock than Norman Rockwell.
Beauty on the basketball court, often, is defined by the final score.
And Saturday, if you were a Washington State player, the score was a magnum opus.
“It was not a pretty game but a win’s a win,” said Brock Motum after his career-high 19 points helped the Cougars overcome a depleted California team, 75-71, before 7,640 at Beasley Coliseum.
“I don’t think all games are going to be pretty but you’ve got to be able to grind out some and we were able to grind out one tonight.”
Grind, as in the noise gears make when they don’t fit together properly.
Both teams were coming off losses, Cal’s a blowout in Seattle and the Cougars’ a poor showing against Stanford.
Maybe that’s why “both teams had it in their minds to play hard,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. Due to that, “it was not the prettiest game, especially at the beginning.”
Bone didn’t specify when that beginning ended, however.
He could have been referring to the 12-minute mark, when the score was tied at 12 and both teams had combined for more turnovers (13) than made shots (10). Or he could have meant halftime, when WSU led 25-23 and the only basket in the final 3:48 a Reggie Moore jump stop, up-and-under layup that Cal coach Mike Montgomery adamantly argued was a travel.
Either way, both teams nearly doubled their production in the final 20 minutes, mainly because both shot better than 50 percent after intermission.
The Cougars, 10 of 58 from beyond the arc their last three games coming in, were 3 of 16 at halftime. But they added three more makes on eight attempts in the second, and all were huge.
“We needed those 3s,” Bone said.
Reggie Moore hit one midway through a 24-8 run that spanned halftime and gave WSU an 11-point lead with 13:11 left. He finished with 11 points as only five Cougars scored, but all were in double figures.
Klay Thompson, who had 36 the first time these teams met but just 13 Saturday, buried a 3 with 11 minutes remaining that blunted Cal’s first rally.
And Faisal Aden, who added 18 points on 5-of-14 shooting, found the net from long range for the only time all night with 3:28 left. That gave WSU a 64-60 edge, after Cal had rallied once more to lead 60-57 with 5 minutes remaining.
But DeAngelo Casto, who went down hard with a twisted right ankle and left the court for a couple minutes to be retaped, scored two quick buckets – the second a thundering dunk after a Moore steal – before Aden hit his bomb. Casto finished with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, making him 15 of 17 for the weekend.
Aden’s 3-pointer made up somewhat for a missed breakaway dunk he had when WSU (17-8 overall, 7-6 and fourth in the Pac-10) had built the 11-point lead, 42-31, with 13:11 left.
At the end of a dominating WSU spell that stretched to the end of the first half, Montgomery earned a technical. Aden made both free throws.
The Cougars didn’t score on the possession, but on the other end Aden was basically handed the ball and raced down the court. When he came up short on the slam, though, it seemed to give Cal hope.
And Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp led the Bears back.
California (13-12, 6-7) played without second-leading scorer and rebounder Allen Crabbe, concussed in the loss at UW. His replacement in the lineup was walk-on freshman Jeff Powers, a transfer from Denver who became eligible at the semester.
In only his fifth game, Powers kept the Bears close with a couple early 3s and he finished with a career-high 14 points. They needed his boost because Gutierrez, averaging 13.6 points per game, missed his first nine shots, throwing up three air-balls (part of nine combined for the teams).
But Gutierrez got hot late (his first hoop came at the 11:29 mark), hit five consecutive shots, and finished with 19 points. Six of those came from the free throw line, where he and Kamp (17 points, nine rebounds) lived in the final 2 minutes, keeping Cal close by hitting eight in a row.
And WSU was missing just enough free throws to help. Moore made just one of two twice, the second with 10.3 seconds left. Up by three, Bone called time and set the defense.
Gutierrez took the inbounds pass, dribbled up court quickly and got a pick on Thompson by Kamp.
“Our plan was to switch the screen and Brock was there but he got a good look,” Bone said. “Brock, luckily, is 6-10 and has long arms so he had a little bit of a presence. But I was hoping he would step up, be a little closer to him.”
Gutierrez’s look was clean, but the shot rattled in-and-out.
“That broke my heart,” Powers said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a shot at that point of a game, go in and out like that.”
“He came down off a ball screen and at that point they didn’t want to foul him, so they let him go and he got a really good look,” Montgomery said. “It was right at it, it just was just (in-and-out).”
Aden got the rebound and was fouled with 2.6 seconds left. It was over.
“Once again it wasn’t a real pretty game and we had to deal with adversity in a variety of ways,” Bone said, including “not shooting the ball well. That can be discouraging, especially early in the game. But they stuck with it and we were able to persevere.”