The Washington State Cougars returned to the hardwood after their second Covid break of the year and cruised to a much-needed conference win over the Utah Utes, 71-54.
Washington State (11-7, 4-3 in Pac-12) was able to erase the second half trends of the past by building a commanding lead that soared up to 23 points before setting the rest of the game into cruise control and rolling Utah (8-13, 1-10 in Pac-12) for a momentum-boosting win.
The Cougars returned to the floor after an 11-day COVID hiatus at nearly full strength, bringing back D.J. Rodman and Matt DeWolf. The Utes, meanwhile, got back their best player, Branden Carlson, who missed the first game against WSU with appendicitis.
Carlson’s return mattered not, as the Cougs earned the season sweep of the Utes.
Utah was able to gash through the Cougars zone defense early in the first half. Lazar Stefanovic scored eight of the Utes first 12 points. The Utah offense would slow down right as the Cougar offense began to figure things out, though. The Cougars turned defense into offense, scoring 11 points off of turnovers. Noah Williams had two of the Cougars seven first-half turnovers and converted both times on the opposite end.
Williams ended the half with 10 total points, including knocking down two free throws after he was grabbed by Utah’s Eli Ballsteadt on a drive. Ballsteadt was handed a flagrant for the intentional foul but Williams picked a tech for giving Ballsteadt a shove after the play. The Utes wouldn’t make a field goal for the final 6:42 as the Cougars took a 33-25 lead into the break. Utah added their final three points of the half after Rollie Worster drew a foul on a three point shot attempt and knocked down all three.
The second half began with a barrage of threes on both ends of the court — a combined six three-pointers from the Utes and Cougs in the first 7:05 of the second half. Half of those came from the Cougars second half hero, Tyrell Roberts. Roberts opened the Cougars scoring with a three on WSU’s first possession, then followed it up with two more four minutes later. He punctuated his stellar start to the half with a spectacular move, flying and spinning through the defense like a ghost before hitting a fadeaway from the right elbow to grow the Cougar lead up to 20. The Cougars disregarded previous trends from earlier in the year and set the game into cruise control mode.
The Cougars were dominant on the offensive glass, pulling down 18 rebounds. Rodman pulled in four of them in his return from the COVID list. Despite starting the game 0 for 6 in the first half, Roberts finished with 15 points, shooting 5 for 9 in the second half. Andrej Jakimovski started hot, hitting his first two threes of the game. He finished tied with Roberts for the team-high with 15 points. He was also tied for the team-high in rebounds with Efe Abogidi with 8.
WSU will finish out the mountain school homestand on Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Colorado Buffaloes.