PULLMAN – Myles Rice looked away from the play and up at the crowd. He started jogging back on defense, scanning Beasley Coliseum’s sections 33 and 32, the ball he had just tossed to teammate Jabe Mullins on its way to the basket.
Rice didn’t have to look to know Mullins hit the 3-pointer, ballooning Washington State’s lead even wider in a 86-49 nonconference win over UC Riverside (4-6) Wednesday night. Rice knew it snapped the net because of the crowd’s reaction, a pop to celebrate the Cougars (7-1) securing a 41-point lead in the second half.
The Cougars played so well they didn’t always have to look. Every WSU player who took the court scored. Washington State’s top scorers were Jaylen Wells, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds; Isaac Jones, who tallied 15 points; and Oscar Cluff, who totaled 12 points and seven rebounds, helping the Cougars race to a 34-6 lead and cruise the rest of the way.
It’s the fifth consecutive win for WSU, which wraps up this five-game homestand with a matchup against Grambling State on Sunday evening.
“I thought this was one of the best-played games probably since I’ve been here, to be honest,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “One of a handful where our guys came out from the beginning and just were locked in on the scout defensively.”
The Cougars shot an efficient 49% from the field and held the Highlanders to 27%. Washington State committed just six turnovers, a big reason why it led 46-22 at halftime, and it won the rebounding battle 48-28 – including 17 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points.
This one was over about as soon as WSU ran off 23 straight points in the first half, turning a 11-6 score into a 34-6 lead, a stretch that included baskets from eight players: 3-pointers from Wells and Isaiah Watts, a dunk from Jones, layups from Cluff, Jakimovski, Rice, Reuben Chinyelu and Kymani Houinsou. From there, WSU never led by fewer than 25 points.
“Me personally, I didn’t even know we were up by that much,” said Wells, who notched his first career double-double at WSU in this win. “I looked at the score and I saw 36 to 6. I looked at Spencer (Mahoney) and I said, is that real?”
If the Cougars did anything wrong, it might have been keeping their starters in too long, keeping Jakimovski in during the final minutes – but that was out of necessity. Guards Joseph Yesufu, Ben Olesen and Dylan Darling all remain out with injuries, which means WSU’s rotation is thinning. That’s especially true at the point guard spot, where in Yesufu’s absence, Housinou has been playing significant minutes.
This was also the second consecutive low-scoring game from Jakimovski, who might be in a bit of a funk. In WSU’s win over Portland State on Saturday, the senior scored three points on seven shots. Against UC Riverside, Jakimovski scored five points on six shots, including a 0-for-4 effort on 3-pointers. It’s an uncharacteristic development for Jakimovski, who has carried the scoring load in years past.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit on his shot, but he’s fine,” Smith said. “Joe not playing, it changes the chemistry of your team a little bit. I don’t think anything of that at all. I think he’s our leader. He got us going. I think he had five offensive boards in the first half and just does it by playing hard. And he’s so unselfish and has so much respect.”
But for WSU, for every discouraging aspect from this win, the Cougars supplied five more encouraging ones. The most meaningful one might be the outing from Wells, who coming in had scored in double figures just once this season, a 16-point outing against Utah Tech. Against the Highlanders, he scored 18 points on 12 shots, showing his touch on 3-pointers by sinking 3 of 6 .
Those weren’t falling for him earlier in the season. He hit just one of his first eight tries from deep to open the season. He’s bumped his 3-point shooting to 28% — not great at all, but headed in the right direction.
“Just in the gym working,” Wells said. “Just getting shots up, just having confidence. We shoot with the wings and Jabe, Andrej, Isaiah every day after practice. So just being able to do that every day has been helping me.”
These are the games for WSU to test its depth. The Cougars get one more of this kind, which comes Sunday against Grambling State (2-6).