TJ Bamba’s 36 points lead Washington State’s impressive offensive display in rivalry win at Washington
March 2, 2023 Updated Fri., March 3, 2023 at 4:17 a.m.
Behind a brilliant effort from TJ Bamba, Washington State’s offense dazzled and posted its most productive Pac-12 game of the year.
The Washington Huskies couldn’t keep up with WSU’s star guard and a red-hot Cougar team that saved its best basketball for late in the season.
Bamba amassed a career-high 36 points and the Cougs set conference season highs in scoring and field goals during a runaway win over their rivals. WSU closed its regular season with a 93-84 victory Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.
WSU (16-15, 11-9 Pac-12) extended its winning streak to six games – the program’s longest Pac-12 winning streak in 30 years. The Cougs clinched their third consecutive winning season and their second straight winning record in Pac-12 play.
“When we were 10-15, it would have been easy for the team to hang their heads, but these guys haven’t,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “I’m just proud of how they hung in there, and we’ve gotten better and better each game.”
Bamba is averaging 25.7 points per game and shooting 60.9% from the field over the past three games.
The junior showed off his scoring arsenal against the Huskies, slashing inside and converting difficult layups, hitting midrange attempts and shooting at an efficient clip from 3-point range. He finished 13 of 20 from the field and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
“He was super poised, really patient on all of his decision-making,” Smith said. “He was just really focused. I’ll never put a ceiling on that young man, because the mind is your most powerful tool and he has a strong one. He’s mentally strong, physically strong and has a growth mindset.”
Bamba poured in 20 points in the second half as the Cougs answered every challenge from UW (16-15, 8-12). WSU shot out to a big lead early in the game and never trailed.
The Huskies were within seven points midway through the second half before a 10-2 WSU run, which ended with a midrange jumper from Bamba that put WSU back in front by 15 points at the 8:00 mark. The Cougs stayed ahead comfortably for the rest of the game.
Cougar post Mouhamed Gueye added 15 points (7 of 11) and 10 rebounds for his conference-leading 15th double-double of the season. Gueye is averaging 17.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and shooting 59.4% from the field during WSU’s winning streak.
“You can tell how much more confident he is,” Smith said of the 6-foot-11 sophomore. “He’s starting to grow into his potential. His character is impeccable. He and Bamba, they’ll always keep getting better. … They’re only growing stronger and pulling other guys with them, and it’s been fun to watch.”
Gueye soared for a one-handed dunk with 2:15 remaining, driving the dagger into the Huskies with a highlight-reel, and-1 play that put WSU up by 15 points.
“My eyes popped out like Bugs Bunny,” Smith said of his reaction to Gueye’s jam. “It was impressive, for sure.”
Andrej Jakimovski chipped in 12 points. He went 3 of 10 from the field, but made up for it with a career day on the glass. The 6-8 junior forward muscled out 17 rebounds, six offensively.
Forward DJ Rodman added 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting and pulled down six offensive rebounds. Guard Justin Powell contributed 11 points – nine in the first 6 minutes of the game.
WSU completed a season sweep of its rivals and recorded its sixth win against UW in the last eight meetings. The Cougars beat the Huskies 56-51 in a defensive battle on Feb. 11 in Pullman.
“We played incredible offensively and on the glass, but we had a hard time guarding them,” Smith said of the rematch. “It’s funny – it was the exact opposite of our game in Pullman.”
In Round 2 of this year’s Apple Cup series, the Cougs recorded their highest scoring output of the season against a Pac-12 opponent while matching an overall season high with 34 field goals. They shot 50.7% from the field and 12 of 29 (41.4%) from distance. WSU came up three points shy of its season high of 96 points, set Nov. 25 in a nonconference rout of Detroit Mercy.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I thought we were similarly prepared the first time we played (UW),” Smith said of the offense. “Late in the season, it gets harder to guard people. You’ll see some scores like that, but it’s nice to have that.”
WSU won the rebounding battle 40-29. The Cougs piled up 29 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds. They committed just 10 turnovers.
Forward Keion Brooks Jr. led UW with 22 points (7 of 13). Guard Jamal Bey had 17 points. Husky guard Noah Williams, the former WSU standout, missed the game with a knee injury.
The Huskies had one of their better offensive nights, recording their third-highest point total of the season while shooting 50% from the floor and 9 of 20 on 3s, but they fell off the Cougs’ pace early and didn’t have enough firepower to match WSU in a shootout.
The Cougars raced out to a 19-3 lead after 6 minutes, hitting five 3-pointers during a 14-0 run that spanned about 4 minutes.
“We really came out of the gates (hot),” Smith said. “I knew that Washington would make a couple of runs at us.”
The Cougs started to cool off midway through the half and the Huskies began to click. WSU went 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in an 8-minute stretch, while UW made 7 of 9 field-goal attempts to trim the deficit to five points with 8:29 until halftime.
Bamba tallied 10 points over the ensuing 6 minutes, including back-to-back 3s late in the half. UW scored the final six points of the period to cut the WSU lead to 42-37 at intermission.
The Huskies were within four points early in the second half, but Bamba responded with five quick points and the Cougs kept UW at bay during the high-scoring period. WSU maintained a lead of three or more possessions for the majority of the second half.
WSU’s seed for the Pac-12 tournament will be determined after this weekend’s results. No matter where they land, the surging Cougars will be a tough out at the conference tourney, which begins Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
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