Despite claims that the Washington State Cougars chances of dancing in March were reduced to dust by their most recent loss to the California Golden Bears, they responded emphatically. The Cougars soundly defeated the Utah Utes in Pullman, outscoring the Utes by 19 in the second half, 79-57.
The win elevates WSU (14-6, 5-4 in Pac-12) into sixth place in the Pac-12 standings. It also now gives WSU home wins over the two of the three highest rated Pac-12 teams on KenPom, though Utah (14-6, 5-4) entered the night as the second highest rated.
While Utah kept things close in the first half, the Utes never led by more than two possessions the entire game. Branden Carlson gave the Utes a three-point lead with the game tied four minutes in, but that would be the largest lead for the Utes all night.
Soon after the Carlson trey, the Cougars responded with a 20-8 run to grab a nine point lead with paint contributions from Rueben Chinyelu, Isaac Jones and a three from Andrej Jakimovski to cap off the run. Carlson led the charge for the Utes to punch their way back, but WSU answered Ute buckets before they could make a run.
As the Cougars looked to expand on their nine point lead before half with Carlson on the bench in foul trouble, they would instead finish out the half on an uninspiring note. A pair of turnovers and some questionable shot selection helped Utah finish the first half on a 6-0 run and drain some of the early momentum the Cougars had built.
The Cougars quickly made up for the way they finished the first half by coming out strong in the first minute of the second half. Oscar Cluff scored inside on the first possession and Jaylen Wells splashed a three on the ensuing to make up for all but one of the points Utah had gained on them in those final first half minutes. And just like all but two minutes of the first half, the Utes were unable to ever get a run of more than two straight scoring possessions. The Utes clawed within two at times, but never took the lead or tied the game in the second half.
The second time Utah broke within two, Isaiah Watts quickly burned the Utes by burning the nets on back-to-back possessions with treys, including a slick one off a dribble.
HEAT CHECK: The West Seattle kid is cooking! He buries back-to-back triples and the Cougs extend the lead to eight through 30 minutes of play.#GoCougs // #CVE // @Pac12Network pic.twitter.com/vTSg9UTkEB— Washington State Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarsMBB) January 25, 2024
Watts’ triples sparked a run that swung the game from being a tight game the Cougars would need to tightrope out of, to seeing how many points they could stack to raise their KenPom ranking.
Wells followed Watts with a mid-range jumper to bring the lead to 10 and while Carlson answered with his own inside jumper, it proved to be the last points Utah would score for over four minutes. Myles Rice, Cluff and Jones each contributed to a 7-0 run to push the lead back out to 15, beginning to put this game just on the brink of getting out of reach for the Utes. WSU firmly submitted this one as a blowout with a 13-3 run to close things out and seal a resounding win.
Part of the reason WSU was able to seize control of this game was their dominance on the glass. The Cougars outrebounded the Utes 40-29, grabbed over 40% of their misses for offensive rebounds and outscored them 21-4 in second chance points. Jones did a perfect job of encapsulating how hard the Cougars were working down low with this high effort play in the first half.
Never give up on the play! Isaac Jones with a pair of offensive boards and gets the bucket and foul on the play. A defensive, gritty battle on the Palouse.#GoCougs // #CVE // @Pac12Network pic.twitter.com/w2iJRbA0pi— Washington State Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarsMBB) January 25, 2024
It can’t be stressed enough how much basketball is left in this season. To call the season over after one overtime road loss and then watch that same team return home and clobber one of the best teams in the conference by 22 is foolish.
Seasons aren’t decided on January afternoons. If they were, then why play 30+ games a year?
Seasons are long. Seasons are tough. Winning on the road is tough. Ask the team leaving Beasley Coliseum tonight. Ask the team that just left Beasley Coliseum a few weeks ago who is still being talked about as a team who can win the national championship. And this by no means is discrediting WSU for what they’ve done at Beasley this month. Simply put, it is hard to win and WSU still has plenty of opportunities to make up for any “season ending” losses they may have suffered. Tonight, they gave 22 plus reasons why that season is far from over.
They will look to keep the momentum rolling into another big matchup against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday.