The Washington State Cougars desperation comeback efforts fell just short in the Las Vegas Clash against the UNLV Rebels, losing 74-70.
Despite an ugly first half of basketball, WSU (4-5) played well enough defensively to keep the game close and ultimately get a chance to tie the game late. But, the story of the game was WSU’s inability to hold on to the basketball and ended up costing them late. UNLV (10-0) scored 31 of their 74 points off Cougar turnovers.
The Cougar defense set the tone early, holding the Rebels to just one of five shooting in the first four minutes and jumping out to a 11-2 lead pulled by a triple of threes from Justin Powell and T.J. Bamba. WSU’s hot start didn’t last long and it quickly became a Las Vegas nightmare. Over the next five minutes, WSU committed, five turnovers and surrendered 18 straight points as the Rebels couldn’t miss and the Cougars couldn’t hold on to the basketball. Bamba finally snapped the 18-0 Rebel run with a three pointer. The Bamba three sparked a 6-0 run and ultimately a 17-11 finish to the half, including a 7-0 late to take a one point lead. UNLV knocked home the last two shots of the half to take a narrow three point lead into the half. WSU being within a long-range jumper of the Rebels despite a whopping 16 first-half turnovers was nothing short of a miracle.
Somebody must have snuck some of Michael’s Secret Stuff into the teams Gatorades at half as both teams couldn’t miss to begin the second half. UNLV started a perfect five of five from the field in the first five minutes. WSU matched UNLVs hot start with a perfect five of five from three. Then the turnovers came back. What was once a two-point game quickly faded into a 12 point Rebel lead after three WSU turnovers in five possessions. Every time the Cougars tried to chip into the UNLV lead, an untimely turnover hamstrung the Cougars comeback efforts. Despite the turnovers, WSU’s defense locked up the Rebel offense, not allowing a bucket for four and a half minutes. The lockdown defensively from WSU fueled a 7-0 run to bring the Cougars back within five with under three minutes to go. With two and a half minutes to go, WSU’s defensive lock put on the Runnin Rebels finally began to break. The Rebels looked to have put the game on ice with two free throws to push the lead to eight with 1:20 to go, but the Cougars refused to quit.
Bamba knocked home a three to bring it within five. Keshon Gilbert couldn’t get the front end of a one-and-one free throw attempt to fall, giving WSU a chance to bring the game back within a possession with under a minute to go. Gueye and Powell each tried three point attempts that couldn’t connect, but Kymany Houinsou drew a foul on an offensive rebound, sending him to the line for two. Houinsou hit both to bring the game within three. WSU immediately sent Victor Iwuakor for two free throws with 35 seconds remaining. Iwuakor missed both, giving the Cougars a chance to tie the game.
WSU moved the ball around the perimeter, looking for an open shot and found Bamba with some space. A great close out pressured Bamba into trying to draw the foul, but resulted in WSU’s 22nd turnover of the game and proved to be the dagger as the Rebels escaped with a 74-70 victory.
The Cougars will have a week off before traveling down to Dallas, Texas to play the Baylor Bears.