CJ Elleby scored 30 points as the No. 11 seed Washington State Cougars advanced to the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament with an 82-68 win over the No. 6 seed Colorado Buffaloes, snapping a 10-game losing streak in the Pac-12 Tournament.
WSU (16-16), also became the first No. 11 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament to win, advancing to face the No. 3 seed Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday. The game will tipoff — in a virtually empty arena — around 8:30 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
The Cougars would trail just once in this game: 2-0, as both teams got off to a ragged start. After Tony Miller hit a little jumper in the lane to tie it up, it was Elleby’s time to shine. He hit a trio of 3-pointers over a couple of minutes as the two teams went toe-to-toe — WSU bombing away from the outside and Colorado getting into the paint with effectiveness.
But then, WSU tightened up the 2-point defense, the Buffs couldn’t make the Cougars pay with outside shots, and the Cougs grabbed every rebound and continued to score: WSU went on an 18-5 run that featured threes from Elleby and Isaac Bonton and also a four-point play from Jervae Robinson, turning a one-point advantage into a 14-point lead with nine minutes to go in the first half.
Amazingly, WSU would not lead by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way against a team that beat them by 22 earlier in the year and is headed to the NCAA tournament. (Presuming there is an NCAA tournament.)
There were some shaky moments, to be sure — for example, WSU scored just two points over the final five minutes of the first half. But the defense kept up its end of the deal, as Colorado could score just six points over that span and the Cougars went to the locker room leading by 10.
A 9-1 run to open the second half — keyed by (what else?) a pair of 3-pointers from Elleby — more or less took any doubt out of the game as the Cougars pushed their lead to 18 points over the first two-plus minutes.
WSU eventually got the lead up to 21, which finally seemed to wake up the Buffaloes, who very much had NCAA tournament seeding to play for after losing their last four regular season games: A quick 9-0 spurt by Colorado over just about 90 seconds dropped the lead to only 12 points, something that felt strangely precarious given ... well, everything we’ve ever experienced as Cougs.
But WSU stanched the bleeding with layups by Robinson and Bonton, and then — after trading buckets with Colorado for a few minutes — the Cougars went on an 11-2 run that featured this dunk by Miller:
.@tony32miller…SHEESH— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 12, 2020
Miller’s dunk for @WSUCougarMBB earns the @OpusBank #12Best moment of the game. pic.twitter.com/xEOLStSSDe
That run pushed the lead up to 22 with just over five minutes to play. At that point, it really was over, and WSU would cruise to its first Pac-12 Tournament win since 2009.
Jeff Pollard, who didn’t play last weekend after breaking a finger on his non-shooting hand in practice, returned to the lineup. He didn’t start — that honor fell to freshman Vova Markovetskyy, who had another nice game — he had just six points and three rebounds in 21 minutes, but his presence clearly provided a boost to the team, particularly on defense.
Jeff Pollard: “As long as I have a hand and can run, I’m going to play.” pic.twitter.com/KboGQmkQBR— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) March 12, 2020
For all the incredible offense that led to the Cougs scoring 1.11 points per possession — particularly making 10-of-20 3s — it really was the defense that led the way. Colorado, which scored 1.05 points per possession during Pac-12 play, scored just 0.92 in this one. The Buffs shot just 4-of-21 from beyond the arc, but WSU also limited them to 47% on 36 shots inside the arc. In fact, the only thing that really kept Colorado afloat was 32 free throw attempts thanks to a generous whistle from Pac-12 Ref that at one point led to a 16-5 foul disparity in favor of the higher seeded team.
Elleby added 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and a block to his monster offensive night; Bonton also scored 15 points and contributed 6 assists and 4 rebounds (although he also had 5 turnovers).
As you might expect, everyone was in a pretty good mood!
He loves his Cougs. ❤️@NickRolovich was fired up for @WSUCougarMBB in the post game press conference after its win over Colorado. pic.twitter.com/k7q52RGees— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 12, 2020
#SurviveAndAdvance! The last time @WSUCougarMBB won a @pac12 MBB Tourney game - it was still the Pac 10. Thx 2019-20 team for reminding us what happens when you have passion & pride in everything you do ... even in your post game celebration! 1 more game tomorrow night! #GoCougs pic.twitter.com/0O2DgVID0U— Pat Chun (@pat_chun) March 12, 2020