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WSU beats No. 21 Saint Mary's, 84-79

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Malachi Flynn has a career night as the upset victory sends the Cougs to the championship of the Wooden Legacy.

Wooden Legacy
Malachi Flynn scored 26.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars continued their hot run to begin the season by picking up a surprising upset victory over the No. 21 Saint Mary's Gaels, 84-79, in the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

Improbably, the Cougs (5-0) now advance to Sunday's championship game, where they'll face the winner of the Georgia Bulldogs and San Diego State Aztecs, who play this afternoon.

Unlike most of their other victories this season, the Cougars needed no dramatic comeback to win this one. They didn't even need an unusually hot shooting night. To be frank, they simply whipped Saint Mary's by asserting their will with penetration into the lane and shooting 62 percent on their twos

Malachi Flynn was practically unguardable for the majority of the game, scoring 26 points while also contributing seven rebounds and four assists. Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett threw just about everything at Flynn, and all the Coug did was abuse whichever poor soul happened to have his turn at trying to stop him.

The Cougs nearly had the tables turned on them. A Robert Franks free throw with just under four minutes to go gave WSU a commanding 16-point lead. But WSU is youthful and inexperienced, and when the more veteran Gaels turned up the pressure to try and get back in the game, the Cougs got a little rattled — a 15-2 run that featured a trio of three-pointers closed the gap to just three with 48 seconds to go.

Needing a bucket, Franks found himself at the top of the key isolated against a defender. Earlier, he jacked up a long three, but not this time: He put the ball on the deck — as the Cougs had done so effectively all game — and got to the rim for a left-handed layup that pushed the margin back up to five.

Saint Mary's got a layup on the next possession, but Malachi Flynn — I mean really, who else would it be? — broke the full-court pressure and found Jeff Pollard all alone under the WSU basket for the layup that would seal the victory.

Three Observations

  1. These guys 100 percent believe this is how good they really are. We all know what the expectations were for WSU from those of us outside the program. Players will often say the right things, but know deep down in their hearts they're full of it. Not these guys. Their consistently positive responses to adversity in games is a signal to me that none of this surprises them, because this is how good they thought they were all along. That says a lot about Ernie Kent.
  2. Ernie Kent is pushing the right buttons. Discipline has never been a word associated with Kent's teams in Pullman, and when the Cougs got themselves into a massive hole in the first game against Texas Southern by chucking up a lot of questionable threes, it looked to be more of the same. But today, the Cougs — who have largely relied on those threes to supply the offense this year — had a great gameplan against a team that purposes to take away threes. Only 21 of their 56 shots came from behind the arc, and few of them were forced. Additionally, the Cougars quickly scrapped the 1-3-1 zone that had served them so well this season when Saint Mary's diced it up a couple of times. In its place was a more than serviceable man-to-man. Impressive stuff.
  3. They're not very big, but they play big. WSU figured to be at a rebounding disadvantage against the Gaels — the Cougs frequently feature lineups with nobody taller than 6-8 or 6-9. But the players in the frontcourt do a great job getting their hands on loose balls, and the guards do an incredible job chasing them down.