The Washington State Cougars have seen their offense come and go this season, but the one thing they always could rely on was their defense — until Thursday, when the UCLA Bruins shredded them for a 91-61 win in Los Angeles.
It was by far the worst margin of defeat this season for WSU, which dropped to 9-3 overall and 2-3 Pac-12. UCLA remained in first place in the conference at 10-2 and 6-0.
The Cougars allowed a season-worst 1.35 points per possession to the Bruins — the previous high was last game, against Stanford (1.11). Before that, no opponent had cracked 1.0. It also was the worst of the Kyle Smith era and the worst since the Cougs allowed 1.41 to Arizona in 2018.
Perhaps there’s something to be learned there about the new level of competition in conference play, given that both the Bruins and Cardinal will contend for the conference crown and are on track for NCAA tournament appearances.
To be fair, the Bruins are the best offensive team in the Pac-12, both in adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 10 nationally coming in) and in points per possession in conference play (1.13). But given the Cougars’ defensive results this season, and Kyle Smith’s emphasis on that end of the floor, he is sure to be disappointed after this one.
Unlike Stanford, which went on a late surge as the Cougars faded, this one was no contest from the jump with UCLA running out to an 8-0 lead and never looking back. Although it seemed as though UCLA was making every shot, especially early on — the Bruins made 7 of their first 8 shots and 9 of their first 12 on their way to an early 21-9 lead — the reality was that WSU did not make most of their shots particularly difficult, even if you don’t normally expect a team to make nearly every open look.
The Bruins would score a whopping 54 point in the first half to lead 54-38 at the break, with the kind of shooting performance that we don’t typically see against a Smith defense, posting an effective field goal percentage of 76% after hitting 13-of-22 on 2s and 7-of-9 on 3s.
Only Isaac Bonton kept it from being worse; he scored 14 points in the first half on 6-of-7 shooting, making numerous difficult shots to try and somehow keep the Cougars in it.
And while he continued that in the second half — he scored 9 more points in the first 13 minutes — the Cougars were never able to really get the Bruins to slow down. UCLA stretched the lead out to 22 with a 6-0 run to start the half (part of a 15-2 run the bridged the break), and while WSU answered with a few buckets to trim it back down to 16 with 15 minutes to play, UCLA responded with a 7-0 run to build it back up to a 23-point lead.
The lead would drop below 20 just one time the rest of the way, and it would reach as high as 31.
Bonton led the team with 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He was the only player to score in double figures. Noah Williams, who was questionable to play after taking a spill against Stanford, did in fact start again, although he scored just 9 points on 3-of-5 shooting (all 3s) with no rebounds and no assists and no steals — he seemed to still be somewhat limited.
WSU’s bigs had a rough go against Stanford and they found the going tough again. Efe Abogidi and Dishon Jackson combined for just 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in 31 minutes.
The Cougs are next in action on Saturday at USC. The Trojans are 3-1 and ranked higher by kenpom.com than the Bruins. Buckle up, y’all.