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WSU defeats Washington in first of two, 78-70

Cougs hold on to the lead and beat the Huskies.

PULLMAN, WA - FEBRUARY 23: Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball versus the University of Washington Huskies at Beasley Coliseum - Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye (35) Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars snapped a five-game losing streak by beating the Washington Huskies in the first of two matches this weekend, 78-70, on Wednesday in Pullman.

It’s the Cougs’ fourth win in five tries against the Huskies since Kyle Smith took the helm in 2018, and it elevates WSU into a tie for 6th in the conference with UW.

“It was a nice win for our program, obviously anytime you play your rival,” Smith said after the game. “Really competitive, good college basketball game. We knew they would be all we could handle and we hadn’t had (a win) in five games, so it was nice to pull that one out. It was a close one too!”

With the score tied at 33 coming into the second half, WSU (15-12, 8-8 in Pac-12) took the lead 21 seconds in on a Michael Flowers three. It was a lead that would reach as many as 12, and they would never relinquish it the rest of the way. Despite UW’s (13-13, 8-8) second half punches — including cutting the once double-digit deficit to just one with two and a half minutes left — the Cougars finished the game with a 7-0 run to win comfortably.

The basketball edition of the Apple Cup got going in the paint early. The first 18 total points of the game came inside of the paint with the teams trading buckets. UW got the early edge, building a lead up to four, as the Cougars repeatedly lost track of rollers to the basket in an effort to shut down UW’s leading scorer, Terrell Brown Jr.

Points came to a stalemate after the first 6:57 of the game, with neither scoring for three minutes. Micheal Flowers broke the offensive silence with a pair of free throws to even the game. UW jumped back ahead and continued to keep the Cougars from ever taking a lead. WSU tied the game three separate times in the final four minutes, including an Efe Abogidi dunk with 1:14 left. The dunk ended up being the final points of the half as the teams headed to the locker room locked at 33.

Despite the tie, WSU’s offense felt confident moving forward. The Cougars had gotten a lot of excellent looks against the Husky defense as Mouhamed Gueye assumed the Noah Williams role of prior meetings, sitting in the soft spot of the UW zone and dropping in soft touches from just shy of the free throw line. Gueye scored 13 of the Cougars 33 points in the first half on his way to a game-high 25 points.

“Mouhamed really stuck to the game plan,” Smith said “They were going to pretty much dare him to make the shots and he made enough of them for us to win.”

Coming out in the second half, the Cougars finally got some outside shots going against the Huskies’ zone defense, going on a 13-1 run in 3:18 to push the early second half lead to 12. The run was anchored by a trio of threes from Flowers, Williams and Tyrell Roberts. But UW slowly began chipping away at the lead, and nearly eight minutes after WSU had a commanding 12-point lead, the Huskies were all of a sudden within just one.

It was a stretch that had all the signs of another Cougar collapse. And this time, it was against the bitter rivals who had excelled all year in these exact close game scenarios that the Cougars haven’t been able to. They couldn’t let it happen again. Not in this game. Not against these Huskies.

Gueye again found the soft spot in the zone, scoring eight of the Cougars next 10 points. Fellow big man Efe Abogidi contributed a bucket of his own following one of his 10 offensive rebounds in the game. In all, Abogidi and Gueye combined for 19 straight points after UW pulled within one at the 8:50 mark.

The Huskies continued to hang around, though, pulling back within one with 2:31 to go on a PJ Fuller layup for his 23rd point of the game. Abogidi reeled in his 10th offensive rebound, punching it through the rim to put WSU ahead by three. Brown — who averages over 20 points but could only score 11 in this one — couldn’t get the close shot to fall on the other end, handing the ball back to WSU with a chance to push the lead back to two possessions.

“Noah did a tremendous job on Terrell Brown, I mean, that guy is a really tough cover, really poised good basketball player,” Smith said. “We did about as good a job as you can on him.”

Abogidi got only one of two free throws to fall on the other end, but the one shot gave WSU a two-possession lead with 1:22 to go. Jamal Bey missed his three-point attempt handing the ball back to WSU. Flowers was fouled with 46 seconds left and hit his two free throws to push the lead to six. Cole Bajema missed UW’s fourth straight shot and UW was forced to start playing the foul game with the shot clock turned off. Flowers knocked home two more free throws for good measure, Fuller made it five straight field goal attempts to end the game for the Huskies and the 4,510 fans Beasley Coliseum rejoiced and waved the rivals goodbye.

Gueye set a career high in points with 25, scoring 22 in the paint and three from the charity stripe. It was the most points scored by a WSU freshman since CJ Elleby scored 26 against UW in 2019. Not to be outdone, his frontcourt partner Abogidi added a career high 21 points of his own in a double-double with 14 rebounds. His 10 offensive boards are the most by a Cougar since the stat began being recorded in 1996-97. While Flowers scored just twice from the field, he knocked home four clutch free throws at the end of the game and tied his career-high in assists with seven.

On the defensive end, Williams locked down the Huskies leading scorer, Brown, who averages nearly 22 points a game. Brown was held to just 5-13 from the field, scoring 11 points.

The win also snaps WSU’s five-game losing streak and gives WSU their eighth conference win, their most wins in conference play since the 2010-11 season.

It’s just the first of two this week against the Huskies as the Cougars will travel up to Montlake on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.