SEATTLE – Isaac Bonton carried the ball to center court, gently set it on the hardwood, then planted a sneaker through the purple “W” at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Noah Williams walked over to the baseline and pointed an index finger toward a crowd, belting out, “This is my city!” then repeated it a few more times, just to ensure he was heard.
As for the game’s other hero, CJ Elleby? Nothing too dramatic. The satisfaction of sweeping the Huskies, in his own backyard, on the night he scored his 1,000th point, seemed good enough for the sophomore.
Bonton, Williams and Elleby – or some combination of those three – have spearheaded many of WSU’s most memorable moments this season. Add another to their growing book.
The Cougars led by 13 points at halftime, weathered Washington’s second-half storm by scoring 11 points in 64 seconds and delivered at the free-throw line in the closing minutes Friday night to beat the Huskies 78-74 in front of 9,131 fans.
“It’s just fun, it’s fun to be a part of this,” first-year WSU head coach Kyle Smith said. “That’s part of the reason (I’m here). I’m honored to have this opportunity to play in this league, play against the best. It’s neat. A lot of good players played in this gym, a lot of good teams. For us to come over here and do that, it’s great (in) Year One.”
The Cougars (15-14, 6-10) picked up their first road win in Pac-12 play after losing each of their first six tries, swept UW for the first time since 2017 and guaranteed they’ll finish ahead of the Huskies (13-16, 3-13) in the conference standings when the regular season closes next weekend.
Elleby needed seven points to reach 1,000, but exceeded that by scoring a game-high 21, on 8-of-13 shooting, after torching the Huskies with 34 points in the first meeting earlier this month. The Seattle native and Cleveland High graduate also had nine rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocked shots.
Bonton, playing for the first time since injuring his hip two weeks ago at UCLA, scored 18 points in the second half and finished with 20. He also had four assists and seven turnovers.
Williams brushed off a steady chorus of “UW reject!” chants aimed at the WSU freshman to score 15 points, including 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. He also had six rebounds and played lockdown defense against the Huskies – three of whom were Williams’ teammates on the Seattle Rotary AAU team.
“It feels great to get win back in my city and on my birthday,” said Williams, who prepped at Seattle’s O’Dea. “It’s amazing and that ‘UW rejects,’ I don’t know what they’re talking about, because I feel like they’re WSU rejects. So, we just came out fighting and came out on top.”
The final score was mostly reflective of how both teams fared at the free-throw line – and, fittingly, the game itself was decided from the line. Williams hit two inside the final 5 seconds to give the Cougars a four-point cushion, and WSU’s efforts from the free-throw line throughout the game were what put the Cougars in position to prevail.
Both teams made 23 free throws, but the Huskies had 38 attempts and the Cougars had just 28. It was 13 more than WSU had allowed in a single game this season.
“We want to keep them off the line and we want to get to the line,” UW head coach Mike Hopkins said. “We did a really good job of that for the most part. When you go to the line, you got to make them. We went enough, for sure, to win.”
The Huskies’ long, athletic lineup of highly rated recruits gave the Cougars trouble early on in the second half. UW took advantage of a 4-minute scoring drought to go on a 19-4 run that made it 47-45 with 11:33 to play.
But a technical foul on Jamal Bey that was whistled after a UW basket seemed to swing the momentum. Bonton led WSU on an 11-0 run, hitting two 3-pointers and making two free throws.
“It was big for us, just to give us a boost, a confidence boost,” Bonton said. “They kind of got after us a little bit, and we lost ourselves a little bit. I wouldn’t say too much, but we stuck with it and those shots were big for us.”
The Cougars went 7 of 19 (36%) from 3-point range after managing just 16 of 81 (19%) in losses to USC, Cal and Stanford. The Huskies salvaged their 3-point percentage with a few late 3-pointers, but still settled for 3 of 16.
Jaden McDaniels led UW with 19 points but also had six turnovers. Carter had 14 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Isaiah Stewart, who may be an NBA lottery pick in June, was limited to 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting. In two games against the Cougars, the five-star prospect had just 21 points, shooting 29% from the field.
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