The Cougars improved to 6-4, while the Highlanders dropped to 7-4.
As has been the case for most of WSU’s wins this season, it was the defense that led the way; WSU held Riverside to just 0.84 points per possession thanks largely to 23 ghastly turnovers that were fueled by a whopping 11 steals.
Those live-ball turnovers were a catalyst for the offense, which had 16 fast break points on its way to a respectable 1.04 points per possession — the Cougars’ best mark in weeks.
CJ Elleby led the team again, pouring in 20 points — his seventh time over that mark this season — on just 7-of-11 shooting, while also adding six rebounds, three steals, an assist and a block. (He also had four turnovers.) But unlike a lot of other games, Elleby got a good amount of help from his teammates.
- Jeff Pollard scored 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting thanks to going 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
- Aljaz Kunc scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc — he also had a couple of key offensive stickbacks during the decisive run of the game.
- And although Isaac Bonton was still inefficient, he was less inefficient than usual, scoring 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting with three assists and two steals.
The first half of the game was fairly ugly, with the Cougars heading into the locker room with a 27-24 lead. The Highlanders had shot well, but they were on their way in the game-long theme of sabotaging their efforts with turnovers. The Cougars, meanwhile, didn’t shoot real well — just 32% overall — but they did hit five threes, and that kept them afloat.
The second half was a game of runs. WSU came out of the break outscoring Riverside 8-1 in the first four minutes, thanks largely to increased assertiveness from Elleby, who was quiet in the first half. But in a flash, the Highlanders tied up the game with a 10-0 run that covered roughly 70 seconds — two threes, a dunk and a layup that were compounded by a pair of live-ball turnovers by WSU.
But the Cougs righted the ship, embarking on a 15-2 run of their own over the next five minutes — Elleby had six more points, Bonton had a couple of layups, and Pollard had a jump hook and a pair of free throws. In that stretch, the Cougs’ win probability jumped from 73% to 97%.
The lead would never drop into single digits again.
WSU is in action next on Thursday against one of the worst teams in Division I, Florida A&M. Tipoff will be at 7:30 p.m. PT from Pullman, and the game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network.