After leading by as much as 11 in the second half, Arizona (12-4, 3-2 in Pac-12) rallied back behind a strong effort from Caleb Love to grab a narrow lead late. WSU (12-5, 3-3) wouldn’t be deterred, hitting their last six shots from the field and were nails at the free throw line in crunch time to fend off the Wildcats.
The win over Arizona is WSU’s first in Pullman since 2010, but marks their second straight season upsetting a top-ten Arizona team.
To counter Arizona’s height, WSU rolled out a tall starting lineup of Myles Rice, Jaylen Wells, Andrej Jakimovski, Oscar Cluff and Isaac Jones. With their height advantage, WSU found success early inside the paint with Cluff and Jones delivering eight of the first 10 Cougar points in the interior with the other two coming on a pair of Jones free throws. Rice and Wells were also able to get inside for a layup each. Arizona kept pace with Oumar Ballo scoring eight of Arizona’s first ten points, but WSU began to expand their offensive presence with Jakimovski and Wells each knocking down a trey.
Kymany Houinsou and Rueben Chinyelu came off the bench to add to the tally with a pair of jumpers and Jakimovski bookended the 7-0 run with a trey to give WSU their largest lead of the game so far at eight. Not only was WSU getting things done offensively, but they were keeping one of the best offenses in the nation at bay. The Wildcats entered the game ranked amongst the best in nearly every offensive category on KenPom. But for 4:55, the Wildcats couldn’t buy a bucket, missing 11 straight shots and turning ball over once during the 7-0 Cougar run.
Ballo finally ended Arizona’s near five minute drought with a second chance bucket and Pelle Larsson answered a Jones layup with one of his own. Arizona would go without a bucket for another three and a half minutes after the Larsson layup before Jaden Bradley ended that drought with his own layup with 37 seconds to go in the half. Jones got one of two free throws to fall to push the lead back to six with nine seconds left, but Love got a layup to go just before the buzzer to cut the Wildcat deficit to four at the halftime break.
Keshad Johnson opened up the half with a short jumper to bring Arizona within a possession for the first time since the 5:55 mark in the first half. WSU quickly answered with a Rice bucket inside to kick off a 6-0 capped off by a Jones dunk to go right back up by eight. While Love was able to disrupt the run, Chinyelu and Wells teamed up for back to back buckets to give WSU their largest lead of the game at 10.
While WSU was in the midst of building their double-digit lead, the Wildcats were ice cold on the other end. The typically sharpshooting ‘Cats hit just one of the first eight shots from the field to start the second half and two for their first 12. With momentum teetering on the brink of going full crimson, Arizona began to wake up with a Larsson three. The trey sparked the Wildcat offense for a 9-2 run to bring the Wildcats back within four and another 5-0 run after a Jones free throw to get within a single point.
The Cougars kept the Wildcats at an arms length for as long as they could, but Love broke through with a layup and a three to take their first lead of the half. After trading a pair of buckets, Rice began his takeover with a huge three to retake the lead.
Jones helped keep the lead firm at two, answering Arizona’s buckets with his own.
With under a minute to go and trailing by two, the Wildcats fouled Wells quickly to send the charity stripe, where he had only missed one free throw in conference play so far. Wells knocked down both to put WSU back up two possessions, but Love wouldn’t let the Wildcats go away, cashing a jumper with 42 ticks remaining.
Now, it was up to the WSU offense to seal the deal. With the ball in Rice’s hands, the third year freshman rolled off a screen to the left, stopped near the elbow and fired. The silence filled Beasley Coliseum until Rice’s jumper found the bottom of the net and the crowd rang out like a bell.
While the fans were ready to celebrate, the Wildcats weren’t done yet. Johnson fired off a desperation three that banked in to give the ‘Cats a pulse. Rice was again tasked with coming through for the Cougs and did so by hitting both his free throw attempts with 11 seconds left to put the Cougs up three and needing one more stop. Arizona got the ball to their guy, Love, who fired off a game tying three attempt that couldn’t find the netting. Jones collected the miss, dished it out to Rice who fired the ball high into the air and the WSU bench raced out on to the court to celebrate the upset win.
With back-to-back wins, WSU has revived their tournament hopes after the 1-3 start to conference play. There is still a lot of season remaining, but WSU now has that signature win over one of the best teams in the nation checked off the to-do list. WSU will now head on the road, looking to take down the other Pac-12 team to defeat Arizona so far, the Stanford Cardinal, on Wednesday.