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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State hangs with No. 6 Arizona, but can’t keep up late in 63-58 loss

Jan. 26, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 27, 2023 at 11:26 a.m.

Washington State center Mouhamed Gueye attempts a shot during a Pac-12 game against Arizona on Thursday at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.  (WSU Athletics)
Washington State center Mouhamed Gueye attempts a shot during a Pac-12 game against Arizona on Thursday at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman. (WSU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Washington State struggled through a lousy shooting night, but the Cougs used a strong defensive effort to hang around with the nation’s sixth-ranked team, keeping another upset win in the cards.

In the end, Arizona survived and narrowly avoided a second loss to the Cougars in three weeks.

The Wildcats hit two 3-pointers and outscored WSU by five points during a crucial two-minute stretch in the waning moments of Thursday’s Pac-12 contest at Beasley Coliseum, pulling away for a 63-58 victory.

“It’s disappointing we didn’t play a little better,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but our guys competed well against a really good team. We defended them well enough to win, to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Cougars (9-13, 4-7) never led, but stayed within striking distance throughout the second half. Arizona (18-3, 7-3) went on an 8-2 run to create a 10-point buffer with 5:28 remaining. Cougar guard TJ Bamba responded with five quick points before the Wildcats’ game-clinching surge.

Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa hit an open 3-pointer at the 2:15 mark to put another WSU upset win out of reach. Bamba took a hit to the face while defending and fell, allowing Kriisa to knock down the shot. Officials huddled and determined that Kriisa had committed a flagrant foul, but per NCAA rules, the bucket still counted.

The ruling sent WSU’s season-high crowd of 5,225 into an uproar, and soon after, the home fans were heading toward the exits.

“If the 3 didn’t count and we get the free throws, then it’s really tight,” Smith said. “It must have been closed, because (the refs) certainly mulled it over. … But we had the ball, down seven, and we had a chance there.”

Bamba made both of his free throws to trim the deficit to seven points, but Arizona’s Courtney Ramey answered with a corner 3 to put the finishing touches on the win.

The Wildcats avenged their loss to the Cougars earlier this month in Tucson. Arizona shot poorly in that game, hitting 4 of 25 from 3-point range, while WSU had a sharp outing offensively, shooting 12 of 28 from downtown to record its first road win over a top-five team in program history.

“At Arizona, we competed good, we played hard, but most importantly, we were hitting shots,” WSU post Mouhamed Gueye said.

In the rematch, WSU lacked any sort of scoring consistency and had issues with ball security. The Cougars shot 32.8% from the field and 4 of 17 from distance, and committed 14 turnovers. WSU has shot 14 of 56 (25%) from 3-point land over the past three games, all losses.

“(Smith) said in the huddle, ‘We’re playing well, but we just gotta hit shots,’ ” WSU guard Justin Powell said. “You gotta hit a lot of your shots to beat a team like that.”

WSU went 16 of 19 from the foul line and forced 16 turnovers to stay on the Wildcats’ heels. For most of the second half, WSU’s defense contained a Wildcat offense that ranks among the 10 most productive in the country – the Cougs held Arizona to its third-lowest scoring output of the season.

Arizona shot 44.8% from the field and 8 of 22 from long range. The Wildcats started the game 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, but missed 10 straight triples before Kriisa’s 3 at the 5:28 mark.

The Wildcats leaned on the 3-ball to open up a 21-9 lead after 9 minutes, but they went cold later in the first half, and Powell and Gueye helped the Cougars climb out of the hole and cut the deficit to 36-32 at the half.

The teams combined for just eight points and shot 4 of 26 from the field in the first 8 minutes of the second half before the pace picked up.

“No one could score, but the game was being played at a very intense level,” Smith said.

Gueye tossed in a fastbreak layup midway through the half to make it a one-point game. The lead was only one possession away for the Cougs over the next two minutes, but Arizona eventually began to gain some separation.

Powell and Gueye scored 15 points apiece to lead WSU. The two shot a combined 12 of 30 from the floor, while the rest of the Cougars went 7 of 28. Powell added nine rebounds and Gueye corralled 10 boards for his eighth double-double of the season. Gueye was playing through a hamstring injury.

“He will not make an excuse,” Smith said of Gueye, who was held scoreless for the first time this season in WSU’s last game, a loss at Colorado. “He’s got a wonderful attitude. He’s just a competitor. He wants to win, loves his teammates. … I felt like he should’ve been at the line a little more, but it was a physical game and he kept competing.”

Bamba scored all nine of his points in the last 6 minutes of the game after dealing with foul trouble in the first half. A team captain and the Cougars’ leading scorer, Bamba returned to the lineup Sunday against Colorado after missing three games with a hand injury.

Forward Azuolas Tubelis scored a team-high 18 points (9 of 16) and tallied 12 rebounds for Arizona.

“He made a lot of tough baskets,” Smith said of Tubelis, the Pac-12’s leading scorer and rebounder. “I just feel like every time he shoots, it’s going in.”

Kriisa added 15 points, shooting 5 of 10 from 3. Guard Pelle Larsson chipped in 10 points.

The Cougars will look to snap a three-game skid when they return to the court Saturday for a 5 p.m. tipoff at Beasley Coliseum against Arizona State.

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