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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State can’t complete late rally, falls to unbeaten UNLV

Dec. 10, 2022 Updated Sat., Dec. 10, 2022 at 7:02 p.m.

Washington State used efficient shooting to offset a slew of turnovers and crept back from a double-digit deficit in the second half Saturday, but unbeaten UNLV hung on late to deny the Cougars’ upset bid.

The Rebels improved to 10-0, squeezing past WSU 74-70 during the Las Vegas Clash at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“That was a really well-contested basketball game,” Cougars coach Kyle Smith said. “Shocked we were able to stay in the game, turning it over 22 times, but I thought our guys competed pretty well.”

WSU (4-5) committed 16 turnovers in the first half and finished with its highest turnover total since committing 22 during a triple-overtime win Feb. 20, 2021, against Stanford.

“They have a very clear identity – pressuring, turning you over,” Smith said of the Rebels, who entered the game ranked second nationally in turnovers forced per game (21.4). “They were able to do that in the first half.”

But the Cougars didn’t let the Rebels run away . UNLV opened up a 12-point lead midway through the second half before WSU rallied, trimming the deficit to three points with less than a minute remaining.

Cougars guard TJ Bamba couldn’t get a clean look on a potential game-tying 3-point try with 16 seconds left, and the Rebels sank enough of their free throws in crunch time to escape with a victory.

WSU raced out to a nine-point lead in the first 5 minutes of the game. UNLV answered with an 18-0 run, capitalizing on turnovers to take a nine-point lead . But the Cougars clawed back, reclaiming the advantage briefly late in the first half, which ended with UNLV in front 33-30.

“I was proud of our guys who kept competing,” Smith said. “(The Rebels) are the kind of team, they will break some teams when they can go on 10-, 12-0 spurts off of their pressure, off of their turnovers. You can hang your head and not compete. I expected them to cause problems for us. We put the ball in the basket pretty well.”

The opening stretch of the second half featured an entertaining back-and-forth between the teams, which hit a combined 13 of 17 attempts from the field over the first 5 minutes .

WSU shot 5 of 5 on 3-pointers in the first 3:12 after halftime. But the Cougars never led in the second half. They fell behind by double digits at the 11:59 mark and couldn’t complete their late push.

WSU shot 54% from the floor and went 13 of 23 from 3-point range. WSU has shot 15 of 67 from beyond the arc over its past three games.

“It was a good confidence-booster for us there,” Smith said.

The Cougars won the rebounding battle 33-20, but managed six second-chance points.

“Our goal was to have more offensive rebounds (eight) than turnovers, and we failed miserably, but we were still in the game,” Smith said.

UNLV defenders cut off passing lanes to produce 12 steals. The Rebels shot 51% from the field and 7 of 23 on 3-pointers, but scored 31 points off of turnovers.

“It’s hard to scout (UNLV),” Smith said. “They have guys with really quick hands. It’s not just the scheme.”

Bamba posted his second consecutive 20-point game, scoring a team-high 20 points (7-of-11 shooting from the field). Guard Justin Powell contributed 15 points, shooting 5 of 7 on 3-pointers.

“I thought it was a really good game for (Powell),” Smith said. “We couldn’t afford to take him out. He made very big shots out there, but we didn’t have quite enough juice.”

Forward DJ Rodman scored 14 points and was the only Cougar without a turnover. The Rebels sent extra help to disrupt WSU center Mouhamed Gueye, who added seven points (3-of-10 shooting from the floor) and eight rebounds. True freshman guard Kymany Houinsou totaled seven points, five assists and four rebounds.

UNLV guards Keshon Gilbert and Elijah Harkless scored 25 and 20 points, respectively, on a combined 17 of 33 from the field.

“Some of their key guys, you gotta give a hat tip,” Smith said. “Gilbert just makes some tough shots and Harkless is a really tough competitor.

“Bamba is probably one of the better perimeter defenders in our league, and he didn’t bother (Gilbert) at all.”

WSU played without guard Jabe Mullins (knee) for the fourth consecutive game. Forward Andrej Jakimovski was also sidelined. He has missed every game this season with a foot injury.

Smith said Wednesday that he expects Mullins to return to the lineup in “seven to 10 days” and hopes Jakimovski will be back by the end of the month.

Up next, the Cougars face another formidable nonconference test when they meet 12th-ranked Baylor on Dec. 18 at American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

“We did some good things. We’re just a little shorthanded and a little inexperienced, but with each game, we’ll get more opportunities,” Smith said. “We got a week off, then we got another really tough one.”

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