For the second time against Washington this season, the WSU Cougars used a strong finish to power past the Huskies down the stretch, securing a season sweep of their cross-state rivals with a 79-71 victory.
The Cougs trailed by four, 64-60, after Noah Dickerson hit a layup for the Huskies with 5:35 to play in the game. But WSU went on a 17-4 run, keyed by nine points from Josh Hawkinson, to take a nine-point lead with 15 seconds to go, allowing Ernie Kent to sub out his seniors to a standing ovation from the 5,003 in attendance.
It was the first season sweep of UW (9-19 overall, 2-14 Pac-12) in six years for WSU (13-15, 6-10).
Hawkinson led the way with 22 points and 7 rebounds, but it was a strong effort from all the seniors that powered the Cougs: Charles Callison scored 18, Ike Iroegbu scored 15 (with 5 assists) and Conor Clifford had 12. Together, the seniors accounted for all but 12 of WSU’s 79 points.
Freshman point guard Carlos Johnson led UW with 17 points, making his first start in the place of soon-to-be freshman All-American Markelle Fultz, who missed his third game in the last five with a lingering knee injury. Dickerson had 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Malik Dime had 8 points and 11 rebounds.
It was through all those boards that the Huskies were able to have a lead late despite a putrid shooting night. The Cougars were uncharacteristically weak on the defensive glass, allowing Washington to grab nearly 40 percent of its own misses and turn 16 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.
The Huskies also played uncharacteristically strong defense for the first 30 or so minutes, as the Cougars found it hard to generate any rhythm for substantial portions of the game.
WSU had a game plan to attack the Huskies on the interior, which worked well in the early part of the game as Clifford and Hawkinson scored 10 of the Cougs’ first 12 points, all in the paint. But UW started switching all of WSU’s screens, and the Cougars’ guards had a tough time taking advantage of the mismatches — sometimes because of lurking weak-side defenders, sometimes because of bad spacing.
It led to what can be charitably described as an ugly first half, as the teams bogged down and combined to shoot 40 percent from the field, turning the ball over 16 times. They went into the locker room tied at 31.
But the Cougars started to finally find some success going to the rim, catalyzed by the usual suspect in that regard: Iroegbu. The senior started attacking the paint and hit a series of layups midway through the second half when it appeared that the Huskies might take control. As it usually does, the high-wire act energized both his teammates and the crowd.
Between that and Hawkinson’s determined finish — together, the only two four-year seniors on the roster scored three-fourths of WSU’s points in the second half — the Cougs put the screws to the Huskies after the break:
A Tale of Two Halves vs. UW
The Huskies, meanwhile, largely were sabotaged by a 4-of-21 performance from beyond the arc.
It made for a sweet sendoff for the seniors, who each got to address the crowd after the game.
Hawkinson "You guys did a great job coming out tonight. We do this for you guys ... keep it up for these young guys."— Jacob Thorpe (@JacobThorpeSR) February 27, 2017
Now Iroegbu: "I just want to thank you all for the last four years, the best years of my life. I appreciate all of you. Go Cougs."— Jacob Thorpe (@JacobThorpeSR) February 27, 2017
Go Cougs indeed!
The Cougars now head to Los Angeles to take on USC — losers of four in a row — on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before taking on No. 5 UCLA on Saturday.