CJ Elleby had a huge game in his first taste of the rivalry between the Washington State Cougars and his hometown Washington Huskies, but his 26 points and 10 rebounds weren’t nearly enough as the Cougs dropped their Pac-12 opener, 85-67, in Seattle.
WSU suffered its fourth consecutive loss to fall to 7-7 overall, while UW improved to 10-4.
The Cougars played their second consecutive game without leading scorer Robert Franks, and while his 22 points surely were missed, it’s unlikely his presence would have made much of a difference — he’s not noted for being a superlative defender, and WSU gave up a season-high 1.27 points per possession.
It was a pretty classic Ernie Kent-coached game for WSU: Shoot a ton of threes and hope you hit enough of them to stay in it while crossing your fingers and hoping the other team misses a bunch of open shots.
And it worked ... for a while.
The Cougars fell behind 29-16 with just about nine minutes to go in the first half when Jaylen Nowell hit a three, but the Cougs responded with a run of their own, outscoring Washington 16-4 over the next three-plus minutes to close to within one as Carter Skaggs hit a couple of threes, and Elleby and Cannon each had five.
WSU maintained contact through the rest of half as UW missed most of its open shots, and the Cougs finally were able to break through for a one-point lead at 46-45 with 16:59 to play in the game when Jervae Robinson hit a three-pointer.
However, UW stopped missing all its open shots and went on a 20-5 run over the next six minutes — including three (wide open) threes, three (wide open) layups and a dunk — to erase any upset bid from the visitors, who continued to make a fair number of shots but couldn’t stop giving the ball away: WSU turned it over on more than a quarter of its possessions.
It was an epic effort from Elleby, who scored his career-high 26 on just 13 shots. He was all over the floor in his team- and career-high 38 minutes, working hard to get jumpers in the high post against the Huskies’ zone — which he hit repeatedly — as well as trying to find open threes (hit it three of those five). He also made 7 of 8 free throws. About the only mark on his record was four turnovers, the product of trying to force the issue at times.
Robinson was the second-leading scorer with 14 points and 4 assists. Marvin Cannon, Viont’e Daniels and Skaggs came close to double figures with nine each.
WSU is in action next on Thursday at Colorado.