The Washington State Cougars continue to defy expectations as they captured their first tournament title in eight years, defeating the San Diego State Aztecs, 93-86, to take the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, California.
It was the third consecutive game in which the Cougars entered as at least 8.5-point underdogs, and it was the third consecutive time the Cougars thumbed their noses at the doubters, fighting the Aztecs tooth and nail in a back-and-forth affair.
This team has already developed a reputation for never backing down, and that was on display again in this one. WSU led by three at the break, but SDSU stretched a one-point lead out to nine midway through the second half. However, a three-point barrage by the Cougs that fueled an 11-2 run — something that is quickly becoming their signature move — brought them back level at 75 with 5:30 to go.
Down one at 79-78 with just under four minutes to go, the Cougs went on another 7-0 spurt behind a pair of free throws by Malachi Flynn, whose three-point shooting kept the Cougs in it through the first half; a tough layup in the lane by Milan Acquaah, who overcame some turnover issues to offer positive contributions, particularly on defense; and a three-pointer by a one-legged Robert Franks, who had badly turned his ankle earlier in the half.
SDSU would get within three a couple of times, but no closer than that the rest of the way.
Flynn and Franks both were incredible once again. Flynn scored 24 on 7-of-16 shooting — including 6-of-11 from three-point range — with six assists, five rebounds and just one turnover. Franks, meanwhile, scored 22 on 6-of-13 shooting — including 3-of-5 from behind the arc — with five rebounds and two assists.
The unsung hero of the game was reserve forward Jeff Pollard, who battled all night against a bigger front line, scoring 16 points by making himself available when the guards penetrated and then finishing tough at the rim.
Of all the games WSU has won so far, this one gets me the most excited: The Cougs just dropped 93 points in roughy 80 possessions against a defense that is probably as good as any they’ll face in the Pac-12. The Aztecs are long and athletic and committed to making life incredibly difficult on opposing offenses.
All the Cougs did was shoot 13-of-28 from three as a team, get to the free throw line 25 times, and make 22 of those. If you didn’t stay up to watch it, it was really, really impressive.
Folks, WSU just beat three teams that, come March, will either be in the NCAA tournament, or on its bubble. The Cougs currently have as good a tournament resume as anyone in the Pac-12, save for maybe Arizona State.
Get on board this bandwagon. These guys are for real.