PULLMAN – It wasn’t anything close to an artistic showcase, but the Huskies demonstrated enough resourcefulness and grit in the final minutes to get back on the winning track.
Washington overcame a disastrous defensive performance in the first half and a 14-point deficit to pull out a comeback 72-70 victory at Washington State, which handed their cross-state rival another heartbreaking defeat on Saturday night.
For awhile it appeared as if the Huskies, which had their 12-game winning streak snapped last week, were still hung over from their Arizona State defeat.
Meanwhile, Washington State came into the game brimming with confidence following last week’s wins at ASU and Arizona.
Buoyed by a season-high 4,233 at Beasley Coliseum, the Cougars raced out to a 34-20 lead late in the first half and looked as if they would turn the game into a laugher.
“They were pretty much on their high horse when they were beating us,” said guard Jaylen Nowell, who scored a team-high 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting. “But we knew we were going to make a little run and get it together eventually.”
Nine of the past 10 games between UW and WSU, including the Huskies’ 70-65 win in Pullman last year, have been decided by eight points or less and this one was no exception.
But early on this game wasn’t close because WSU shot 59.3 percent from the field and took a 45-36 lead into the break.
In the first half, the Huskies locked down WSU’s leading scorers and held senior forward Robert Franks and freshman guard CJ Elleby to four and three points respectively.
However, sophomore guard Marvin Cannon did his best Klay Thompson impersonation and scored 18 of his game-high 25 points before the break.
“We keyed in on those two guys CJ and Robo and … sometimes when you’re so keyed on two players, you got to give up something,” said Noah Dickerson. “He got hot in the first half.”
Nowell added: “(Cannon) played a great game. He’s very athletic. He was hitting his shots. Getting fouled and getting to the line. Catching lobs and all of that.”
At halftime, UW coach Mike Hopkins made defensive adjustments to account for Cannon and slow down the Cougars that outscored the Huskies 12-0 in fastbreak points.
“We just had to calm down a little bit,” Hopkins said. “In the first half our energy levels just didn’t seem like they were there. We got down. They were shooting the ball well.
“(In the second half) we did a really good job of keeping them out of the high post while guarding Franks,” Hopkins said. “That really helped. They scored 45 points in the first half and 25 in the second half.”
After the Cougars hit 16 of 27 field goals in the first half, the Huskies held them to 8 of 22 (36.4 percent) in the second half.
UW outscored WSU 36-25 in the second half.
“We came out really angry,” Nowell said. “We didn’t like the fact that they (scored 45 points in the first half) so we just made it a point that we come out and make sure that we shut all of that down.”
Down 51-43 with 14:53 left, Washington made a 13-3 momentum-turning run to go up for the first time in the second half.
Nowell’s jumper outside the paint gave the Huskies a 56-54 lead with 9:57 left.
Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way and the lead exchanged five times.
“Just going back and forth, back and forth and back and forth,” said Dickerson who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We’d get a stop, then they would get a stop. We just couldn’t find anything to go.
“But we pride ourselves on our defense. So even if we’re not scoring, we’re making plays on defense.”
Franks, who finished with 16 points, sank a three-pointer with 2:46 left to give WSU a 67-65 lead.
However, the WSU star committed a couple of costly turnovers down the stretch.
With a one-point lead, Franks lost the ball in transition to David Crisp who dished ahead to Nowell for a layup despite being fouled. Nowell sank the free throw to give UW a 69-67 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Franks stepped out of bounds and at the other end Dickerson tipped in a putback that extended the Huskies’ lead to 71-67.
Nowell added a free throw to secure the Huskies’ fourth straight win over the Cougars, which fell to 10-15 and 3-9 in Pac-12.
“We looked so good for so long and that veteran team kept their composure while we lost our composure,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “Particularly in the last 90 seconds and even in the last two minutes of the game. There were some things out there that shouldn’t have happened.”
Washington (20-5, 11-1 Pac-12) has a three-game lead in the conference regular-season race over Oregon State, which is 8-4 in league play.
With a chance to clinch the Pac-12 title next week, Hopkins said it’s business as normal.
“There’s nothing that we’re going to put in that’s different,” he said. “Everybody knows we’re playing zone. The bottom line is we got to be able to have our energy. We got to be together. And that’s going to be a huge part of being successful, especially down the stretch.”
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