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WSU Men's Basketball

Behind improved defensive effort, WSU downs Oregon for key 62-56 win

Washington State guard Myles Rice drives to the basket during Saturday’s game against Oregon.  (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)

Jim Shaw was not exactly kind to his Washington State players after the group’s loss to Oregon last month. The Cougars’ associate head coach, in effect the team’s defensive coordinator, really got after them in practice after allowing the Ducks to hit more than a dozen 3-pointers in Pullman.

Oregon couldn’t seem to miss as it scored 89 points, but WSU also felt disappointed in its defensive effort. When the teams met again, the Cougs vowed to play better defense, especially on the perimeter.

That’s a huge reason why Washington State closed out a 62-56 win over Oregon on Saturday afternoon in Eugene. A month after yielding 14 3-pointers, the Cougars permitted just four, winning their fourth straight game – and their eighth in nine tries – behind a defensive effort oriented around the 3-point line.

Shaw, who missed his team’s win over Washington last weekend with a medical scare, was back on the bench in Eugene. It’s clear he made a difference.

“We kinda made it a mud-wrestling match, and that was to our favor,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said.

“We really guarded the 3 well. Complete opposite of what you saw in Pullman. Unbelievable. Really proud of our guys.”

It’s the fourth Quad 1 win of the season for the Cougars, who were already putting together a credible NCAA Tournament resume, good enough to appear on almost every national tournament bracket projection. By beating the Ducks, who were also on the bubble , they might have planted themselves in the field – or at least in the conversation.

WSU (18-6, 9-4 Pac-12) also stayed a game back of first place in the conference after Arizona dispatched Colorado on the road 99-79.

The Cougs will get a chance to move up in the NCAA NET rankings, from No. 41, where they entered Saturday.

Pac-12 Network / Youtube

Myles Rice led Washington State with 21 points and nine rebounds, and Isaac Jones and Jaylen Wells chipped in 13 points apiece.

Wells sank 4 of 4 3-pointers – continuing a torrid pace. Wells has hit 10 of his last 12 tries from deep and is up to 42% of his 3-pointers on the season.

The perimeter attack helped key WSU’s offensive outing, particularly late in the game. With just under 5 minutes to play, Rice hit a wing 3-pointer, good for a 54-49 lead.

From there, Oregon guard Brennan Rigsby knocked down a corner 3 to draw back within three, only for Jones to attack the basket and earn a trip to the free-throw line, where he hit both for a 58-53 lead.

Oregon wasn’t done trying to rally. The Ducks got a long 3-pointer from Jermaine Cousinard, whose basket helped UO cut the deficit to 58-56. But the Cougs closed things out at the free-throw line, where they got conversions from Wells and Rice, wrapping up one of their biggest wins of the season.

“It was kind of just attrition. We were kind of just hanging in there,” Smith said. “We were using long possessions. It was not the best execution down the stretch, but I think with our foul trouble and everything else, I thought not letting the game get to be a rat race was probably to our advantage.”

Washington State played without true freshman center Rueben Chinyelu, who sat out with an illness, Smith said. That handed more minutes to forward Oscar Cluff, who responded with 12 points and six rebounds in 35 minutes, his highest total this season.

That’s also where Wells’ development has come in handy for the Cougs. Now that he has established himself as a deadly catch-and-shoot threat – even occasionally as a shot-creator – he’s pulled help defenders away from the paint, where posts like Cluff can operate with ease. He posted eight of his points in the second half.

“Oscar made some big-time plays,” Smith said. “It felt like we’ve been playing good, obviously, with Rueben being sick and having a shortened rotation.”

WSU returns to action next weekend, hosting Cal on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday in Pullman.