Behind a record-setting shooting performance from Robert Franks, the Washington State Cougars emphatically set aside any notion of a winless conference record this season as they ran the California Golden Bears off the floor, 78-53, on Saturday in Pullman.
Franks hit 10-of-13 3-point attempts to set a new school record, breaking the previous record of nine that had been shared by current WSU assistant Bennie Seltzer, Chris Crosby, Marcus Moore and Derrick Low.
WSU moves to 9-8 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-12. Cal drops to 7-11 and 1-4.
Franks finished with a career-high 34 points, also contributing five rebounds and an assist, but it wasn’t just Franks who was on fire for the Cougs; the entire team shot 72 percent in the second half (18-of-25) as WSU scored a whopping 1.6 points per possession in the final 20 minutes, figuring out a way to close out a game strong for the first time in what seems like months.
Equally important, though, was the defense the Cougs played. They’ve struggled in that regard, but Cal had a rough time finding open shots — the Golden Bears shot just 32 percent for the game despite hammering the Cougs on the offensive glass by picking up 42 percent of their own misses.
An underrated cog in this game was Drick Bernstine. Ernie Kent has used the grad transfer as the leader of his fast break, a la Draymond Green for the Golden State Warriors, which has served up mixed results: Bernstine had averaged three assists and five turnovers in the previous three games.
Today, though, Bernstine dished out nine assists against just a single turnover while also scoring 10 points and grabbing 6 rebounds — very Green-like.
Malachi Flynn was the other Coug in double digits, scoring 14 points with 3 assists and 3 rebounds, while Kwinton Hinson is making the most of his recent insertion into the starting lineup with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
The game was close at halftime, with WSU leading just 30-25, and Cal was within three points at 37-34 with 17:13 to play. But over the next 10:30, the Cougs outscored the Golden Bears 28-12 — 17 of the points coming from Franks, who hit five threes and had a dunk in transition off a glorious feed from Hinson:
Franks did the vast majority of his damage from the corner against Cal’s bafflingly slow zone:
Someone on the bench knew that Franks had tied the record — perhaps Seltzer? — and Franks started hunting for that 10th one, finally getting it in the final minute on a tough shot with a hand in his face:
The team took a lot of joy in Franks’ achievement, willingly giving up the ball to the hot hand — their 22 assists comprised 76 percent of WSU’s made baskets. It was a really cool moment for a team that has had an incredibly rough go of it following the euphoria of the Wooden Legacy championship back on Thanksgiving weekend, having lost eight of 10 since then.
And it’s probably a great thing they got the Pac-12 monkey off their back with this victory; the next five games are brutal, featuring a trip through the mountains this week (Colorado then Utah), a roadie at Hec Ed, and then home games against Arizona and Arizona State. Coming away with a win in any of those games is going to be a tall task, as kenpom.com gives them no more than a 30 percent chance to win any of them.
They’ll enjoy this one, as they should. Go Cougs!