It had been 23 days and 240 basketball minutes since Washington State last left a Pac-12 venue with a victory in hand, so the opportunity that presented itself to the Cougars on Sunday at Washington was understandably too sweet to pass up.
End one streak.
At long last, Washington State parted ways with its six-game losing skid, a messy stretch that dated back to a 15-point loss against Stanford on Jan. 9 in Santa Cruz, California. Simultaneously, the Cougars were able to revel in their third consecutive victory over the Huskies, trouncing their cross-state rival 77-62 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
If a regular-season series sweep of UW last season didn’t do it, WSU officially shifted the power balance of Pac-12 hoops in the Evergreen State. Sunday’s 15-point win marked WSU’s largest margin of victory in the rivalry since 2007 and the largest margin of victory in Seattle since 1994. Kyle Smith joined mentor Tony Bennett as the only other coach in program history to open his tenure with a 3-0 record against UW.
Not since 2007 had the Cougars reeled off three consecutive victories over the Huskies, and while the COVID-19 pandemic dulled some elements of the rivalry game, it didn’t dampen the confidence or the pride of Sunday’s victors.
“I feel like we’re unbeatable against the Dawgs,” said WSU guard Noah Williams, a Seattle native and O’Dea High graduate whose sister played for UW. “We’ve got the secret formula.”
In some respects, the formula looked different than it did last season against the Huskies. In others, it looked identical.
In the previous meeting, CJ Elleby, Isaac Bonton and Williams combined to score 56 points, with Williams sealing a four-point win from the foul line. Elleby, a Seattle native who’s now with the Portland Trail Blazers, wasn’t there to lend his offensive skills in this matchup, but fellow Pacific Northwest natives Williams and Bonton held up fine on their own, combining for 46 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Bonton led the game with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting while Williams had 21 points and made 7 of 8 free throws before fouling out of the game in the final minute after being whistled for his second technical.
“He’s pretty spicy every game, I think it’s more the function of, hey, he’s doing this in Seattle,” Smith said of Williams. “That’s kind of his mojo. We have some moments that I’m not proud of and he’s not proud of, but he’s a fighter and I’ll take those guys every day of the week. He aspires to be like a Gary Payton and we’re trying to work on some things there, but he gives us some juice and we drive off it.”
Bonton, who had his sixth 20-point game in Pac-12 play after missing Wednesday’s loss at Colorado because of the flu, still wasn’t feeling 100% when the Cougars practiced Saturday, but Smith said game-day adrenaline helped the point guard overcome his illness.
“Good to have him back,” Smith said. “He’s pretty important to us.”
While Bonton and Williams carried the torch, combining to make four 3-pointers in the second half after the Cougars went 0 for 11 in the first half, WSU wouldn’t have built a double-digit halftime lead without valuable play in the post from freshman bigs Efe Abogidi and Dishon Jackson.
Making their Apple Cup debuts, Abogidi and Jackson combined for 24 points and Abogidi registered his second Pac-12 double-double, scoring 13 points to go with another 13 rebounds. The Nigerian-born center sparked WSU with two highlight dunks in the second half and managed to keep himself in the game despite closing with four fouls.
Sophomore center Volodymyr Markovetskyy was an unsung hero for the Cougars, scoring four points with four rebounds while bolstering WSU’s defensive effort in the paint.
“Efe and Dishon have been coming along really well lately,” Williams said. “Especially Dishon, he’s young. So, he has a lot of growing, but they’ve been playing really well for us, grabbing a lot of boards and causing a lot of havoc on the offensive end. Coach is telling us to keep on pounding the ball in and good things to happen.”
The Cougars scored a Pac-12-high 42 points in the paint and pounded the Huskies on the glass with 48 rebounds to UW’s 28.
In their seven Pac-12 losses, the Cougars had conceded 78.5 points per game but kept the Huskies to just 62, forcing 19 turnovers and holding UW to 21-of-55 (38%) shooting from the field.
“Especially the way they’ve been playing, we were better there,” Smith said. “The zone was really good for us most of the game and we were able to rebound. Rebounding both ends really helped us, but I felt like we got a little bit of our edge (back). Got our mindset right, simplified things, and I think we did a good job of that.”
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