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WSU Men's Basketball

Recap and highlights: Jaylen Wells clutch play lifts No. 21 Washington State over No. 4 Arizona 77-74

By Greg Woods The Spokesman-Review

TUCSON, Ariz. — Jaylen Wells has always fashioned himself unflappable. He may not like to show much emotion, not even as Washington State’s best wing, not even as the Cougars have inched closer to the lead in the Pac-12.

Which is why, even when he converted the four-point play that helped No. 21 WSU sink No. 4 Arizona Thursday night in a 77-74 classic, it came as no surprise when he displayed a poker face. Nothing fazed Wells, not even the free throws he hit moments later, the final dagger in one of the biggest wins in WSU program history.

With the win, Washington State takes over first place in the Pac-12, vaulting Arizona. The Cougars also capture another Quad 1 win. With this victory, they have all but punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, which would break a 16-year drought.

This one came down to the wire. As the clock ticked under one minute, Arizona guard Caleb Love got downhill and finished through contact, breaking a tie and giving the Wildcats a 74-71 lead.

Wells, who totaled 27 points on 6 makes from deep, knocked down a long triple to take a 67-63 lead in the final five minutes. Silence fell over McKale Memorial Center, packed to the gills of some 14,000 people, a crowd that has yet to see its team lose this season.

Things went a little haywire for Washington State (21-6, 12-4 Pac-12) from there. Arizona answered with an alley-oop to bruising center Oumar Ballo, who registered 16 points and 11 rebounds, then a triple from Love, whose basket gave Arizona a 68-67 lead.

That’s when WSU coach Kyle Smith pulled the trigger, inserting forward Isaac Jones, who had picked up his fourth foul moments prior. Within moments, he earned a trip to the free throw line, where he knocked down both shots, good for a 69-68 lead with about 2½ minutes to go. Jones totaled 16 points and 6 rebounds.

On the other end, Cougar wing Kymany Housinou was whistled for a tripping foul, which sent Ballo to the line. He sunk 1 of 2, tying the game at 69-all.

On the Cougars’ next trip, they looked out of sorts. They had to reset their offense with 9 on the clock. Houinsou passed to Wells, who had nowhere to go, fading away from the basket. So he put it up and put it in. That gave the Cougs a 2-point lead, only for Wildcats forward Keshad Johnson to tie it up on the other end.

BOX SCORE

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First half

19:10 – UA 2, WSU 0: WSU has a shot clock violation on the first possession and Arizona drives for a layup on the other end. It’s loud in Tuscon.

15:30 – WSU 9, UA 8: Good start for the Cougars, who hold possession at the first media timeout. Wells leads WSU with five points.

Cougars open 4 of 9 from the field, while the Wildcats are 3 of 6. WSU has three fouls. Arizona has three turnovers.

11:31 – WSU 16, UA 16: Cougars on a 2:40 scoring drought and the Wildcats take advantage with a 6-0 run to tie the score at the U12 media timeout.

Wells leads WSU eight eight points, as the Cougs are having a tough time scoring from close.

7:55 – WSU 24, UA 18: Love gets a steal and is fouled by Jakimovski at the U8 media timeout.

Cougars have played excellent defense and are taking the crowd out of the game. Wells leads with 10 points, while Chinyelu adds six with four rebounds off the bench. Five turnovers for the Wildcats.

2:59 – WSU 31, UA 26: Cougars take their largest lead of the game with a 7-0 run, but Johnson answers with a jumper. WSU’s Watts is called for a foul at the U4 media timeout and the Wildcats will have free throws when play resumes.

Wells leads WSU with 13 points, while Chinyelu adds eight on 4 of 4 shooting from the field.

0:22 – WSU 34, UA 33: Jakimovski knocks down two free throws to regain the lead and WSU calls a timeout.

Love put Arizona in front with a 3-pointer. He has a team-high 17 points and lost the ball on a breakaway. 

Halftime

Washington State leads Arizona 34-33 at halftime in what’s shaping up to be a great game in Tuscon.

The Cougars led by as many as seven points with 3:54 remaining, before the Wildcats came back. There have been three lead changes, but WSU has led for over 14 minutes.

Jaylen Wells leads WSU with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting. He is also 3 of 5 on 3-pointers, while the rest of the Cougars are 0 of 5.

Rueben Chinyelu has added solid minutes off the bench with eight points and five rebounds.

Caleb Love leads Arizona with 17 points.

Second half

19:13 – WSU 36, UA 33: Chinyelu picks up right where he left off with a made basket. He has 10 points on 5 of 5 shooting.

17:09 – UA 43, WSU 39: Johnson throws down a big dunk and WSU calls a timeout. Wildcats have a 10-5 advantage since halftime. 

11:49 – WSU 51, UA 50: Jones hits a jumper to give the Cougars the lead back at the U12 media timeout. Jones is up to 10 points, joining Wells (16) and Chinyelu (10) in double figures.

7:10 – WSU 60, UA 57: Ballo makes a layup and Cluff is called for a foul on the next possession to trigger the U8 media timeout. 

Not much separating either team down the stretch. Arizona will have bonus free throws when play resumes.

4:42 – WSU 67, UA 63: Wells hits a huge 3-pointer, his fifth of the game and WSU calls a timeout. 

Wells has 19 points for the Cougars and is 5 of 8 on 3-pointers. WSU takes a two-possession lead, after going back-and-forth for a long stretch. Nine lead changes in total.

Jones and Cluff both have four fouls, but Chinyelu has been excellent. He has 12 points and 10 rebounds.

2:39 – UA 68, WSU 67: Love hits a 3-pointer to but Arizona back in the lead. Jones is fouled at the U4 media timeout and he will have free throws when play resumes to try and snap the Cougs’ 2-minute scoring drought.

1:31 – WSU 71, UA 71: Wells and Johnson trade jumpers and the Wildcats call a timeout. Going down to the wire in Tuscon.

24.6 – WSU 75, UA 74: Wells hits a 3-pointer to tie and draws a foul. He hits the free throw to put the Cougars in front.

0:00 – WSU 77, UA 74: Wells hits both from the free throw line and the Cougars win. 

Wells plays the hero with the clutch 3-pointer late and Arizona can’t answer. Wells scored a game-high 27 points. 

Starting 5: Cougs rolling with usual starters of: Rice, Wells, Jones, Jakimovski and Cluff. Arizona starts: Love (18.8 ppg), Larsson (13), Boswell (10), Johnson (11.4) and Ballo (13).

Tipoff pushed back to 8:10 p.m. due to FS1 programing.

Pregame

It’s been a long time since Washington State has played a game like this.

The No. 21 Cougars, ranked by the Associated Press for the first time since 2008, travel to play No. 4 Arizona tonight at 8 p.m. on FS1.

WSU (20-6, 11-4 Pac-12) trails Arizona (20-5, 11-3) by a half-game in the conference standings.

A win tonight would put the Cougars in position to win the Pac-12 for the first time since 1941 with four games remaining: At Arizona State and a three-game homestand versus USC, UCLA and Washington.

Baring a late-season collapse, the Cougars are also on the brink of snapping a 16-year NCAA Tournament drought. An appearance this March would be WSU’s third in the past 30 years.

WSU enters the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 10 of 11, including a home victory over Arizona on Jan. 13.

The Wildcats have won six straight, including a 105-60 rout of ASU on Saturday, Arizona’s lone game last week.

Series history

Arizona holds a 70-19 all-time record against Washington State since 1949-50. The Cougars have won two of the last three against the Wildcats, including in Tucson last year.

Team stats

Individual leaders

Game preview

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