The Washington State Cougars moved to 9-1 on the season — their best start since 2010-2011 — after a 71-60 defeat of the California Golden Bears in Berkeley that was led by 22 points from Isaac Bonton.
The game also was the first one away from Pullman this season for the Cougs, who moved to 2-1 in the Pac-12. Cal dropped to 5-7 and 0-5.
The game started off rocky for the Cougs, who were plagued by sloppy turnovers early — a whopping eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes led to a six-point deficit, 19-13, with 9:40 to go until the break, as the Golden Bears took advantage of numerous live-ball takeaways to score easy buckets in transition.
It wasn’t really anything the Bears were doing in particular, defensively; the Cougs just weren’t valuing the ball as much as they normally do and were basically handing it over. The offense was working well, otherwise, giving the sense that if the turnovers could be brought under control, the Cougars could surge.
And that’s exactly what happened. WSU turned the ball over just three more times the rest of the half, and the Cougars outscored the Golden Bears 18-9 over the final 9:40 to take a three-point lead, 31-28, despite playing far from their best basketball.
The Cougs continued rolling coming out of the locker room, outscoring Cal 20-8 over the first 8:30 — making it a 38-17 stretch over roughly 18 minutes as the Golden Bears struggled mightily to find any kind of scoring touch without their leading scorer, Matt Bradley, who sat out with an ankle injury suffered last week against Oregon State.
WSU had no such issues with its leading scorer, as Bonton had his best game of the season, scoring his 22 points on just 11 shots. He was everywhere, getting to the rim — and finishing! — while also hitting an array of midrange shots and also a pair of 3s. He also was 6-of-6 from the free throw line after struggling there so far this season, part of an 18-for-23 team effort that represented a vast improvement from Saturday’s debacle against Arizona.
That, plus shooting 7-of-18 on 3s, allowed the Cougars to score 1.04 points per possession (the third-highest efficiency of the season) despite turning it over on more than 1-in-5 possessions.
The Golden Bears never got closer than 7 points in the second half, thanks largely to the Cougars’ reliably staunch defense. Overall, the Cougs allowed just 0.88 points per possession — third-lowest output of the season for Cal — and held the Golden Bears to just 41% on 2s and 24% on 3s.
In addition to his 22 points, Bonton posted 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 turnovers and a steal. Efe Abogidi contributed 12 points and 9 rebounds, while Noah Williams scored 11 points — all in the second half. Vova Markovetskyy quietly had a very strong game, scoring 7 points with 8 rebounds, including 4 on the offensive glass, plus a block in 20 minutes. Jaz Kunc, who found himself on the bench for most of the Arizona game, also made some nice contributions, scoring 7 and grabbing 6 rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes.
The Cougars will next be in action at Stanford (by way of Santa Cruz) on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT.