The Washington State Cougars extended their winning streak against the Washington Huskies to three and in the process snapped a six-game losing streak with a 77-62 victory in Seattle on Sunday night behind 25 points from Isaac Bonton.
The Cougars improved to 10-7 overall and 3-7 in the Pac-12, while the Huskies dropped to 3-12 and 2-8.
This was a game that long looked like it would be a respite from the recent run of contests against the league’s best teams — Washington has been quite bad for almost the entire year — and there had been signs in the losses to Colorado that the Cougs were on their way to righting the ship.
However, there’s a difference between showing signs of life against good teams and actually beating them, and that’s exactly what the Huskies had done last week with wins against Utah and Colorado that featured scorchingly efficient offense. Suddenly, it looked like maybe Washington wasn’t one of the worst teams in the conference.
The Cougars brought them crashing down to earth by employing the formula that powered their 8-0 start and generated so much optimism among fans starving for postseason basketball: Stingy two-point defense.
With an assist from Washington’s horrendous defensive rebounding.
The Huskies shot just 40% on their 2s, their third-lowest mark of the season and only the second time in their last six games that they were under 50%. The Cougars didn’t block a bunch of shots as they did early in the year; in fact, they had none. What they did instead was use their zone to make any interior shot exceedingly difficult while still remaining in position to clean up the glass.
The Cougars, meanwhile, absolutely feasted on the interior, converting 23 of their 40 2s for a whopping 58%. Both Dishon Jackson and Efe Abogidi outshined the Huskies’ big men, Jackson employing a series post moves that seem to grow more refined by the game, and Abogidi getting back to doing what got us so excited in the first place:
Welcome to the Apple Cup, Efe Abogidi. pic.twitter.com/C4OWiBw2wp— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) February 1, 2021
It partially explains how they could shoot 0-for-12 from beyond the arc in the first half and still take a nine-point lead into the break, 38-29.
The rest of the explanation comes from extreme shot volume: Thanks to a whopping 11 offensive rebounds and just 5 turnovers in the first half, the Cougars had 34 shot attempts to the Huskies’ 29, and 14 free throw attempts to the Huskies’ 3.
Everyone knew that all it would probably take for the Cougs to run away with it was to start to hit some threes, and that’s exactly what happened. WSU opened the second half on an 11-3 run that was capped by a pair of 3s from Bonton and Noah Williams to extend the lead to 17 less than five minutes into the final period.
Washington came back with a little spurt to get it back down to 13, but then the Cougars went on a 12-3 run to extend it all the way out to 22 points with just under nine minutes to play — and, again, 3-pointers by Bonton and DJ Rodman played a big role.
But it wasn’t just the 3s from Bonton. He was everywhere, especially in that decisive run, and he was fun. The 3-pointer came after his defender got caught peeking at the approaching ball screen, and he just pulled it and drained it. Bonton followed that up with a layup and a foul off a nifty long bounce pass from Williams:
Noah Williams dishes, Isaac Bonton collects and finishes the crafty layup to make it a 57-38 lead for #WSU. He’ll head to the line with a chance to make it a 20-point game. The Cougars are flat-out dominating their in-state rivals. pic.twitter.com/IQ1K0pLCcv— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) February 1, 2021
The run was capped by a Bonton jumper — his 12th and 13th points of the half — and the game was effectively over at that point. It got a little closer when Washington threw a halfcourt trap at the Cougs, who turned the ball over and missed a bunch of free throws down the stretch. But it only served to make the margin look a little less like the blowout that it was.
Probably the most exciting part of the second half came when Williams received his second technical foul for taunting the Huskies. It was unclear what happened on the first T, but the second one was plain as day, as he drove for a layup on a fast break, missed it, calmly collected the offensive rebound as the defender flew out of bounds, laid it in, then put his hand about 12 inches off the ground while looking in the direction of the defender.
Noah Williams: “I feel like we’re unbeatable against the Dawgs. We’ve got the secret formula.” pic.twitter.com/69TYECQo0V— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) February 1, 2021
Kyle Smith on Noah Williams: “... We have some moments I’m not proud of and he’s not proud of, but he’s a fighter and I’ll take those guys every day of the week. He aspires to be like a Gary Payton and we’re trying to work on some things there, but he gives us some juice.” pic.twitter.com/nQC5JTRHEt— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) February 1, 2021
In all, Bonton scored his 25 on 10-of-17 shooting with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, while Williams put in 21 on just 6-of-17 shooting but 7-of-8 from the line with a couple of 3s, as well as 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Abogidi posted his first double-double in a while with 13 points and 13 rebounds (5 offensive), while Jackson finished with 11 points and 3 boards.
And as always: