The win-loss column would suggest that both Washington State and UCLA had tremendous success through the first 11 games of the 2020-21 season. Thursday’s game between the Cougars and Bruins was a reminder that not all 9-2 teams are created equal.
In Washington State’s most lopsided loss since a 2019 Pac-12 Tournament loss to Oregon – the final game of the Ernie Kent era – a hot-shooting UCLA team finished with a better percentage on 3-pointers than it did on 2-pointers and won 91-61, sending the Cougars to their third loss in four games.
Even though both teams entered the game with identical 9-2 records, Ken Pomeroy’s database hinted at the talent disparity between UCLA and WSU, slotting the Bruins at No. 24 and Cougars more than 100 places lower at No. 129.
Forty minutes of basketball in Westwood confirmed the validity of Pomeroy’s rankings, as UCLA, still unbeaten in Pac-12 games and one win from cracking the AP Top 25, raced out to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes, led 54-38 at halftime and grabbed a 31-point with 1:12 to play, more than doubling WSU’s largest deficit of the season (previously 15 points vs. Stanford).
Following the final buzzer, Fox Sports 1 broadcaster Steve Lavin, a former Bruins coach, announced, “We’re going to have to start talking about UCLA in the national championship picture,” then doubled down, saying, “They may cut down the nets. Tonight, mark it down.”
Asked if he thought the Bruins had a chance to do that, WSU’s Kyle Smith said, “I’m not even qualified to speak on that … but they’re very sound, very solid, really efficient, got good depth and seem to play together really well. They don’t play with any ego. They taught us a lesson today and hopefully we can grow from it.”
The Bruins shot 33 of 61 (54%) from the field and had more success behind the three-point line than in front of it, going 9 of 16 (56%) on 3-pointers and 24 of 45 (53%) on 2-pointers. Previously, no opponent had finished better than 32% on 3-pointers in a game against the Cougars.
UCLA’s 91 points were the most scored by an opponent against WSU this year, topping the 86 that Arizona scored in a double-overtime game in Pullman, and it happened despite no Bruins player scoring more than 17 points.
Johnny Juzang was UCLA’s leader with 17 points, while Jamie Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell each had 16. Cody Riley had 12 and Drew Kyman added 10.
“Pretty simple explanation, they outplayed us from jump ball to the final whistle,” Smith said. “… They’re a good team, we knew that coming in, but we really struggled to take anything away from them, and they played really well. I’d like to think we’re better than that. We need to play with more effort, more energy.”
Most of the energy supplied by the Cougars came from a single player, Isaac Bonton, who continued his hot streak with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Bonton, who has scored 88 points in his past four games, went 3 of 5 from beyond the arc and had three rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers.
But the senior point guard was the only WSU player to finish in double digits, and the team’s second- and third-leading scorers, Noah Williams (12.1 ppg) and Efe Abogidi (10.5) combined to score only 13 points.
“I just thought we came out without our spark, without our energy,” Bonton said. “We didn’t play with enough grit like we normally do, and I just thought they capitalized on us, they attacked us early and they were more physical than us, they played with more energy than us, and there’s some points where we tried to bounce back, but I just felt like the energy wasn’t there today.”
Sloppy ball-handling also was costly for the Cougars, who matched their season high in turnovers for the second straight game, committing 17. The Bruins were +15 on the glass, grabbing 37 rebounds to WSU’s 22.
The Cougars (9-3, 2-3) will finish arguably their most challenging three-game stretch of the season on Saturday against USC. The Trojans (10-2, 4-1) are on a five-game win streak after Thursday night’s victory over Washington.