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WSU beats Cal in Pac-12 tournament first round, 66-59

Cougs move on to play UCLA on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-California at Washington State Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars defeated the California Golden Bears in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, 66-59, on Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

WSU (19-13) led by 12 at the halftime, but Cal (12-20) pulled within four with 14:45 to go. The Cougars held off the Golden Bears’ comeback attempt by knocking down 18 of their 21 second half free throw attempts. The win propels WSU into the second round against the UCLA Bruins, whom they’ll take on tonight at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network.

Reigning freshman of the week (for the fifth time) Mouhamed Gueye was a game-time decision for tonight’s contest with an ankle injury, and he ended up being a late scratch after warm ups. The freshman was seen in a boot and crutches yesterday as he rolled his ankle in practice before leaving for Las Vegas. The Cougars are hopeful he’ll be good to go Thursday night.

WSU took control early on and never really looked back, as Cal never held a lead. Michael Flowers kicked off the evening slate of games with a three and Tyrell Roberts followed with a three-point-play the old fashioned way, getting an and-one on a driving layup. Cal pulled within one on a Kuany Kuany three ball nearly two and a half minutes later, but TJ Bamba helped separate the Cougars, scoring eight of their next 15 points. Efe Abogidi added the final eight points of the first half, handing WSU a 12-point halftime lead. WSU shot 46.4% from the field in the first twenty minutes and played all but three minutes without Noah Williams, who landed in foul trouble early on.

WSU struggled to get going from the field. Roberts got the first three field goals of the half for WSU but it took him a little over six minutes to do so. It allowed Cal to pull back into the game, cutting the lead to just four behind nine free throws.

Free throws were the story for both sides the rest of the way. There were a total of 33 personal fouls called and 41 free throws shot between both teams in just the second half alone. Both teams made more free throws than field goals in the second half with WSU making more than double with seven field goals to 18 free throws. The Cougars took advantage of their time at the free throw line, building a lead of up to 14 with 4:44 to go. Cal’s 16-9 run in the final 4:35, including a “bad beats”-worthy three in the final seconds, proved to be too little too late as the Cougars survived and advanced to the second round of the Pac-12 tournament.

Like just about every game against Cal, it’s not going to be the prettiest of games but a win is a win, especially in tournament games. Survive and advance is the name of the game in March.