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WSU Men's Basketball

Washington State can’t keep pace with veteran UCLA Bruins, eliminated in Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

LAS VEGAS – In a playoff game pitting an established Pac-12 Conference power against an up-and-coming program, experience won out.

Battle-tested UCLA , no stranger to the big stage, played like the polished team full of veterans that made a run to the Final Four last season.

Washington State, meanwhile, looked like a work in progress.

No. 13 UCLA cruised past WSU in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament, prevailing 75-65 on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.

“You want to get your program used to playing late into March,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “(The Bruins) are used to it, obviously.

“I’m sure that helps them – expecting to win, returning so many guys. Hopefully, we’ll return the core of this group.”

The Bruins (24-6) led by double digits over the final 18 minutes of the game after opening a 12-point halftime advantage with a 14-0 surge late in the first half. They found a rhythm early in the second half and sustained it, never allowing WSU to generate any consistent momentum.

“We stalled out and they kinda separated,” Smith said.

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. shimmied past defenders and put up a smooth 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, adding 11 rebounds. Guard Jules Bernard added 19 points (7 for 12 from the floor) for UCLA, which shot 47.5% from the floor against 41.5% for WSU (19-14).

The Cougars, the top 3-point shooting team in the conference, were held to 8 of 29 (27.6%) from distance.

They were also outrebounded 40-25. UCLA dominated underneath the basket against a shorthanded WSU frontcourt and produced 40 points in the paint.

“We could have made it more competitive. We just couldn’t keep them off the glass,” Smith said.

Standout WSU freshman big man Mouhamed Gueye missed his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury.

Forward Andrej Jakimovski paced WSU with 15 points. Guard Tyrell Roberts scored 14 and TJ Bamba added 11. Graduate point guard Michael Flowers, the team’s leading scorer this season averaging 14.2 points, was held to eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.

“I was surprised we were up 20,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “I have a lot of respect for their guard play. Obviously, Mouhamed Gueye being out didn’t help.”

WSU claimed a 21-19 lead when Roberts hit back-to-back 3s midway through the first half. A top-five team in the country in turnovers committed, UCLA had five giveaways over a choppy stretch lasting about 5 minutes.

But the Cougars soon fell off the pace. They failed to hit a field goal for nearly 9 minutes, and UCLA raced out to a 17-point edge.

A 3-pointer from Jakimovski early in the second half made it a seven-point game before UCLA surged ahead with a hot-shooting spree, putting the contest out of reach.

“We’ve had stretches throughout the season where we couldn’t get a shot,” Smith said. “It kinda compounded.”

The Cougars are hoping to receive an NIT invite to cap Smith’s third season.

“We can learn from this experience,” Jakimovski said. “We have a lot of season left. … We’re a young team and we were way better than last year. It’s just one step forward for us and hopefully we’re going to come back next year and make one more step forward.”