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Cougars cruise past Utah Valley, but hard road awaits

PULLMAN – It was the kind of play afforded by a lead as large as Washington State’s.

So maybe DaVonte Lacy cheated a bit defensively because the Cougars were already more than well on their way to their 72-49 victory over Utah Valley on Wednesday night. The sophomore guard used an effective overplay to steal the ball from an unsuspecting Wolverines ball-handler, dribbled back the other way with only one defender between he and teammate Mike Ladd, then flipped a soft lob to Ladd roughly rim-high.

“I took a chance and gambled a little bit,” said Lacy, one of four WSU players in double-figure scoring with 11 points. “But I won.”

Ladd leaped, grabbed Lacy’s pass and flushed it, highlighting a win as easy as WSU will have this season.

And certainly easier than what’s coming.

WSU coach Ken Bone was quick to note that Utah Valley was playing its second road game in three days – this one in front of just 2,023 at Beasley Coliseum – having traveled here from North Carolina on Tuesday.

“I’m proud of what our guys accomplished,” Bone said. “But I think we saw a tired Utah Valley team who’s better than they showed.”

So now it’s the Cougars hopping on a plane, flying to Malibu, Calif., for their first road game, against Pepperdine on Friday night. From there, they’ll head to Kansas City for a Monday night game against No. 7 Kansas in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, followed by a game against either Texas A&M or Saint Louis.

“I think it’s going to tell us a lot of just who we are,” Bone said.

“Even though it’s early, I think it’ll tell a lot,” said senior forward Brock Motum, who led WSU with 15 points despite sitting with foul trouble in the first half. “Our ability to win on the road early in the year will show.”

On Wednesday, they showed they don’t need a superlative effort from Motum to win. The Cougars built much of their first-half lead without Motum, who was forced out of the game after picking up his second foul with 13:54 remaining in the first half.

At that point, WSU led 12-7. By the time Motum returned more than eight minutes later, the Cougars led 31-17, already well on their way to a 45-22 halftime lead that ended this one early.

They did it the only way that’s going to work this season – by playing solid defense, sharing the ball and working for high-percentage shots. Dexter Kernich-Drew, a third-year sophomore who played sparingly last season, scored a career-high 14 points as a result of moving well without the ball and knocking down a couple open 3-pointers.

The Cougars (2-0) can do without style points. They will take 16 assists and only five turnovers, only one of those committed by starting point guard Royce Woolridge in 27 minutes. They’ll take 58.6 percent shooting in the first half.

They’ll take 13 points from Mike Ladd and six assists from Lacy, though Bone would have preferred a rebounding margin larger than 27-23.

“We played at a tempo that we wanted to play at,” Bone said. “I thought we shared the ball well. We took care of the ball. I think five turnovers is very good no matter who you’re playing against. Disappointed a little bit with the rebounding, but all in all I thought we played a good basketball game.”

Can they do it elsewhere?

“These next three teams are going to bring it, and they’re going to be significantly more talented than some other teams that we play,” Lacy said. “We’ve got to step up our game as well and play up to their level.”