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Sports >  WSU basketball

Noah Williams, Efe Abogidi pile up style points, Washington State handles UCSB behind hot start

Nov. 15, 2021 Updated Mon., Nov. 15, 2021 at 11:42 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Stylish guard Noah Williams froze a defender at the perimeter with a hesitation move, clearing a lane toward the basket about midway through the first half.

Williams, like the rest of this Washington State basketball team, was feeling it early against UC Santa Barbara.

As he left his feet, the Cougs’ standout Seattleite put a hand behind his head, striking the “flex” pose made famous by Karl “The Mailman” Malone.

“I thought I made a nice move, so I just put a little flash to it,” Williams said. “I didn’t even think about it – it just happened.”

Williams’ dazzling layup epitomized the Cougars’ breakaway first half, which wasn’t short on electrifying moments.

WSU had plenty of style points Monday night at Beasley Coliseum during a 73-65 victory over the Gauchos – a result that was not as close as the score suggested. The Cougars started hot and built a 23-point lead late in the first half, then preserved a double-digit advantage until late in the game.

In a season heavy with expectations, the Cougs (3-0) have won their first three contests handily. But the first two weren’t as convincing as this one.

It came against the Big West Conference preseason favorites, who had qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a 12 seed last season and fell narrowly in the Big Dance to No. 5 Creighton.

“They’re used to winning,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “We’re not there yet. … To be able to play that well and get on top of them (early), I didn’t expect that at all. I was really tickled.”

WSU was in control from the jump. Its defense was suffocating, its frontcourt tandem of budding stars from Africa shined, and its transition offense produced a number of highlights – like Williams’ Mailman impression.

“I can’t take all responsibility for his actions,” Smith said of Williams, “but he likes to have fun out there. He’s definitely a showman. He’s a unique personality. And you know what? Our guys love him and he plays hard and he competes.”

Sophomore Cougar post Efe Abogidi stole the show in the second half.

The ultra-athletic Nigeria product staged a block party, consistently timing Gaucho layup attempts and sending them out of bounds.

“When he’s energized and active, he’s really impressive,” Smith said of Abogidi.

Abogidi provided a lift on the scoring sheet, too. In all, he recorded a team-high 18 points on 6 of 7 from the field, corralled eight rebounds and swatted six shots – the most blocks by a Coug in five years.

“It’s just timing it,” Abogidi said of the blocks. “During the summer, I was with the Nigerian national team, and just to see the way some NBA players are playing, it helps you learn how to attack the ball really efficiently.”

Freshman big man Mouhamed Gueye, a Senegal native, contributed eight points and nine boards in his finest showing yet for WSU. He collected an offensive rebound and hammered home a poster dunk to extend WSU’s lead to 17 with about 13:30 left in the second half.

Williams exhibited his improved ball-handling and scoring with multiple nifty fakes and 13 points (on 6 of 12 shooting) to go with his five boards and three steals. He attributed some of his growth to offseason work alongside professionals like Jamal Crawford and Isaiah Thomas.

“Going to those open runs (open tourneys in Seattle), and them forcing me to play point guard and bring the ball up, that definitely helped a lot,” Williams said.

Newcomer guards Tyrell Roberts and Michael Flowers chipped in 11 points apiece as WSU continued to show off its advanced scoring options early this season.

“That’s huge. It takes a lot of weight off everybody’s shoulders,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of teammates we can trust, and that’s the good thing about us. I think we can be a good NCAA Tournament team.”

The Cougars opened a double-digit lead after seven minutes, holding the Gauchos without a bucket for five minutes in a stretch that featured seven UCSB turnovers and crisp, momentum-setting plays on the break, particularly from Williams and Flowers.

Williams flipped a crosscourt pass to guard Tyrell Roberts for a scoop layin and Flowers connected with freshman post Mouhamed Gueye on back-to-back fake-out feeds from the perimeter – Gueye hammered home dunks.

It’s early, but players agreed the Cougars’ start represented WSU basketball at its ideal version.

“We definitely want our identity to be a team that causes a lot of havoc on defense and gets stops, and this may be cliche, but defense wins games,” Williams said.

WSU committed only three turnovers in the first half and shot 53%. The Cougs slowed down a touch in the second half, finishing 46% from the floor as UCSB stayed in relative striking distance. The Gauchos never got close enough to truly threaten, though. The Cougars controlled the paint and Williams put the final touches on it with consecutive fading jumpers.

“It was a great first half,” Smith said. “We were getting shots every time down. Our defense was really, really good, then we just got a little loose in the second half with fatigue.”

UCSB big man Amadou Sow led all players with 25 points and snagged 11 boards. The Gauchos shot 39% and 2 of 13 from distance. WSU didn’t impress from beyond the arc, either, shooting 2 of 16.

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