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Cougars pull away late to sweep Sun Devils

After going back-and-forth, WSU ran and hid down the stretch.

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Larry Scott, is there any way you could engineer a schedule in which WSU just faces Arizona State for the entirety of Pac-12 conference play? If you could figure that out, the Cougs might actually compete for their first upper-division finish since 2008. Ok, if WSU can't play ASU every game, how about just half of them? I bet Ernie Kent would support this, as it would probably lead to Bill Moos throwing even more money at him.

WSU faced ASU Saturday afternoon looking to end a five-game losing streak, including two straight games where WSU was largely non-competitive. WSU hadn't won a game since they faced, you guessed it, Arizona State in Tempe. We talked last week about how long it had been since WSU swept an opponent, so the Sun Devils again provided the cure that ailed Ernie Kent's team.

The game started somewhat sluggishly, and it took several possessions before Malachi Flynn broke the ice with a three pointer. The Cougs held a tenuous lead for the first ten minutes, never getting up more than five points. When Torian Graham hit a three with 9:35 to go, the game was even once again. WSU mustered just four points in the next four minutes, but ASU only managed to stretch the lead to five.

The tight game wouldn't last, though, as WSU went through yet another scoring drought, managing a single Conor Clifford free throw in two minutes and nine seconds. ASU wasn't so cooperative this time, and stretched the lead to 12 points. WSU managed to keep it close due to outside shooting. Ike Iroegbu, Robert Franks and Viont'e Daniels all made three pointers, and WSU closed to within six at halftime.

The second half began in much the same way as the first ended, with WSU gradually closing the gap. When Ike Iroegbu hit another three pointer, WSU had its first lead in over 14 game minutes. After trading baskets, Torian Graham made another three to give ASU a 69-65 lead with 7:41 to go. ASU wouldn't score again until WSU had 81 points.

I don't know where the heck that 16-0 WSU run came from, but man was it fun to watch. Conor Clifford got it going with a layup, then Malachi Flynn hit another three to get WSU back in the lead. The Cougs didn't let up, getting points from both inside and out. It was probably the best seven minute stretch the Cougars have played all season, and it led to Bobby Hurley tears, which are some of the sweetest tears in college basketball.

If you want to know a possible reason for WSU's late game surge, this might be among the biggest:

Four WSU starters reached double figures in scoring, led by Clifford's 19 points. Iroegbu had a great all-around game, scoring 17 points, dishing out seven assists and grabbing eight rebounds (four more than biggest-guy-on-the-floor Clifford). Malachi Flynn bounced back a bit from a late-season swoon, hitting four three pointers and tallying seven assists.

Then there's Josh Hawkinson. The newest member of the Ike Fontaine All Stars (I'll put something together on that team some time down the road) collected 14 points and 15 rebounds to notch the 54th double-double of his tremendous WSU career. That is good for numero uno in WSU history, surpassing Steve Puidokas. Congratulations, Josh.

The Cougars have eight days off before they face 11th-place Washington on Senior Night next Sunday. Hopefully the seniors get to play their last home game in front of the biggest crowd of the season. Since Washington is the opponent, I can say with near certainty that the students will be out in full force.

Game time is set for 5:30, and will be telecast on ESPNU.


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