What was expected to be Washington State’s first test of the season turned out to be another cakewalk as the Cougars raced out to a 12-point lead on the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in the first 7 minutes of the game and never looked back, cruising to a 73-65 victory on Monday in Pullman.
The eight-point final margin makes the game look closer than it actually was. The Cougars (3-0) stretched their first half lead all the way out to 23 points with three minutes to go before the break, and while the Gauchos (1-1) continued to fight — as befitting a team that won its conference last year and nearly won a game in the NCAA tournament — they never truly threatened, as the lead only dropped below 13 when UCSB made the final three baskets of the game over the last 1:30, including a Cole Anderson 3-pointer that was uncontested with 2 seconds remaining in the game.
The Cougars’ early run was keyed by a plethora of UCSB turnovers that the Cougars turned into easy buckets on the offensive end. The Gauchos gave the ball away 10 times in the first half, many of them of the live ball variety, giving WSU plenty of transition opportunities, which they repeatedly capitalized on.
The strong defense continued through the game, particularly when WSU’s bigs were on the floor: Efe Abogidi racked up 6 blocks as Gauchos simply had no consistent answer for the Cougars’ rim protection. UCSB’s stud big man, Amadou Sow, made a lot of hay in the second half with his crafty post moves, but the Gauchos shot 2-of-13 from beyond the arc, which meant they never had a serious shot at getting back in the game.
Abogidi also led the Cougars in scoring with 18 while also picking up 8 rebounds, while Noah Williams (13 points), Michael Flowers (11) and Tyrell Roberts (11) also chipped in with double digit efforts. Freshman Mouhamed Gueye led the team with 9 rebounds.
The Cougars travel to Moscow, Idaho, on Thursday for their only road nonconference game. The game against the Vandals will tip off at 6 p.m. PT with the broadcast on ESPN+.
Casual finish: Often times, when a team gets out to a big lead, things can turn a little rough — particularly if that lead is against a pretty good team. The Cougars spent the final 10 minutes or so of the game just sort of running out the clock with bad shooting, sloppy passing, and generally just ugly play. It was a stark contrast to the opening of the game, in which everything was clicking in a way that it hadn’t all season. It wasn’t bad enough to put the outcome in jeopardy, but it certainly will give Kyle Smith something to be irritated about and provide plenty of ammunition for teaching.
Offensive rebounding to the rescue: OK, maybe not “the rescue” — it’s not like the game was ever really in doubt — but when the offense went seriously cold in the second half, the Cougars’ offensive rebounding sustained them. WSU shot 57% in the first half but just 37% after the break, including 1-of-7 from 3. But they turned those missed into second chance opportunities, picking up 7 of their own misses. It was a rough finish, but the Cougars did enough to grind their way to a comfortable victory, even as the shots weren’t falling.
Rocky post defense: We knew coming into the game that Sow was a really good player, and he didn’t disappoint, scoring 25 points — 16 of them in the second half. The Gauchos just dumped the ball in and let him go to work, and go to work he did, shooting 8-of-16 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the free throw line as he abused most of the players WSU tried to put on him. Dishon Jackson picked up 4 fouls in just 6 minutes trying to defend him, and for all his blocks, Abogidi didn’t fare much better. With a big lead, WSU was content to leave his post defenders in one-on-one situations without extra help, and it turned out badly over and over; that’s something the Cougars are going to want to get worked out before they have to take on opponents with legit front lines.