After a strong second-half comeback and a decisive overtime, the Washington State Cougars defeated the UCLA Bruins for just the 18th time in program history on Saturday night, 79-71. Sophomore CJ Elleby, who had been mired in a shooting slump, buried a game-tying corner 3-pointer out of a timeout with 19.9 seconds left in regulation. A strong defensive play by freshman Noah Williams help send the game into overtime on UCLA’s ensuring possession.
The Cougs wouldn’t look back in the extra period. They started with a 6-0 run on buckets from Jeff Pollard, Elleby, and Isaac Bonton. An impressive step-back Bonton jumper put WSU up 73-66, but Elleby fouled out on UCLA’s next trip down the floor.
From there UCLA would pull within 73-71 on a Jake Kyman 3-pointer with 1:56 to play. Bonton again answered with another difficult step-back to put the Cougs up two possessions and the Bruins wouldn’t score again.
Defense helped seal the game—quickly becoming a trademark of the Cougs in Kyle Smith’s first season at the helm. Junior 6’6 forward Tony Miller rose up to swat away 6’9 Cody Riley’s layup attempt, then Williams put the Bruins away for good with by swiping the ball from UCLA’s Jules Bernard and hitting an ensuing free throws to ice the game with 11 seconds left.
Before WSU prevailed in overtime, UCLA controlled long stretches of the game, including extending its lead out to 11 at 50-39 with 13:39 to play. The Bruins utilized a two-man game with Prince Ali and Chris Smith. Both were able to capitalize on their athletic advantage to crack Wazzu’s defense. Smith would finish with a game-high 22 points on 8 of 14 from the floor, while Ali put in 11 on 5 of 9 shooting.
That’s where WSU’s Smith threw a curveball. With Elleby in foul trouble, and his players getting burned on the perimeter, he switched to a zone defense. UCLA struggled to adapt, and would score just 21 more points in the final 18 minutes of game action.
However, good defense can only go so far, as we saw when USC beat WSU just two days ago. The Cougar offense would finally kick in the gear, led by an unlikely source—Australian freshman Ryan Rapp. He scored on two drives and that seemed to kickstart the Cougs.
Meanwhile, Bonton became more of a distributor, setting up teammates with penetrating drives. Miller also came alive during this period, scoring inside and drawing fouls. That was enough to get him to 11 points in the game, double figures for the second time in a row.
WSU would capture the lead on a Bonton layup with 7:36 play, setting up the back-and-forth final minutes and a dramatic finish.
Bonton led Washington State with 17 points and five assists in perhaps his best all-around game at WSU. Elleby chipped in 15 on 4 of 13 shooting, while Aljaz Kunc logged 12 points on just four field goal attempts—he hit 6 of 9 free throws.
The win moves the Cougs to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in conference play. The Bruins drop to 8-7 and an identical league record of 1-1. Wazzu heads to the Bay Area next, facing the California Golden Bears in Berkeley on Thursday night.