COUGS WERE CRASHING THE BOARDS ALL NIGHT
PULLMAN -- Three consecutive Cougar dunks were mere technicalities as the No. 23 UCLA Bruins could only sit and watch as Washington State's Cougars embraced their first win on the hardcourt in 10 tries. Two starters down and facing a squad they hadn't beaten in two decades at home, the Cougs gave a delirious, albeit small, crowd all they wanted and more in a game they lead wire-to-wire.
Who would’ve guessed?
UCLA came in atop the Pac-12 and hadn’t lost in Pullman since 1993. With a crowd of 4,268 on hand and pregame news of a torn right meniscus sidelining DaVonté Lacy for the year, this one certainly didn’t unfold like many expected.
A WSU team that had made it almost customary to lose their way over the final five minutes, ended as emphatically as it began on this night.
“We’ve played 20 good minutes, or 30, or 35, or some games 39 good minutes, but I think tonight we put together 40 good minutes,” senior forward Brock Motum said. “I knew when we finally did that and played a full game, we’d get the win. I’m just happy we put two good halves together.”
While UCLA seemed to think it could sleep through their 40 minutes and still trump a struggling 2-14 WSU squad, the Cougars answered by taking advantage of missed shots and turnovers early on.
Indeed, WSU served to be a startling wake-up call for a Bruin squad fresh off a four-game win streak and tied for a share of the Pac-12 lead. Before Ben Howland’s crew could bat an eye, the Cougars held a suffocating 19-2 lead midway through the first half -- getting easy looks at the basket while controlling the offensive boards. The lead expanded to 25-4.
As testament to the nature of the Cougs' impressive start, consider that 10 of the their first 14 shots were beneath the basket.
Motum, who had open looks under the hoop all night, said they just were catching UCLA off guard with screens.
“Because it was working, we stuck with it and kept getting easy baskets,” he said. “More importantly, our defense was getting stops.”
While the Cougars led 35-24 at halftime, the lead quickly dwindled to six as UCLA freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad drained a step-back three to cut the lead to 37-31 early in the half.
Collective sighs of “here we go again,” permeated Beasley as the Bruins seemed to finally have woken up. But the Cougars would not have any of that on this night. This was about proving to themselves and their pundits what they had been saying throughout the season, that they can indeed compete with anyone.
“We’ve been scrutinized quite a bit, how bad we are, we’ve lost this game and that game, and how we lose the games,” Bone said. “It’s nice to go out and beat a quality team and play good basketball.”
Royce Woolridge echoed his coach’s sentiments saying, “I feel like we stuck together as a team. We’ve been in that situation so many times that we knew what we were going to do… I feel like we were tired of letting the lead go at the end of games and we finally stepped up and took care of it.”
With his mom, dad, coach and many of his best friends from back home in Australia in attendance, Motum earned his first win against UCLA, leading the team with 20 points and 11 boards, six of which were on the offensive glass.
“I know I’ve never beaten UCLA in the Pac-10,” he said. “I was happy individually to finally beat UCLA while I was here and I’m proud of these guys.”
But while Motum’s stellar play have become commonplace for the Cougars as he enters his final regular season game with the Cougars, other unexpected scorers stepped up Wednesday night as well.
Junior guard Will DiIorio, who started in place of the injured Lacy, played admirably – shooting four of six on the night and adding seven rebounds.
D.J. Shelton was one point shy of his career high with 13 points. He tied his career high with 3 blocked shots.
Another unexpected player was sophomore guard Dexter Kernich-Drew, who notched his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.
The Cougars outrebounded UCLA 46-23 overall on the night.
“We’re not the biggest team, so we’re going to do everything we can to scrap and try to win the game,” Kernich-Drew said. “Somebody had to step up, and I just tried to do whatever I could out there and get as many boards and secure the ball for us.”
But no performance was as impressive – at least aesthetically speaking – as sophomore guard Woolridge ducked, spun and shot his way to 19 points on the night.
This was, by all accounts, a team effort – something head coach Ken Bone addressed after the win as he spoke to the team’s resilience and character.
“It’s just nice to see them finally get rewarded with a win.”
Sophomore guard DaVonté Lacy missed Wednesday’s game with a torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season for the Cougars. Lacy will undergo surgery on Friday and is expected to be out two to four weeks, Bone said. The news does not bode well for the team’s already depleted guard position as senior guard Mike Ladd has missed the last six games with a left knee injury. Bone said on Monday the Cougs might get Ladd back this week.
The Cougars snapped a 20 year losing streak at home against UCLA with the win. The team also broke their nine-game losing streak in Pac-12 play.
Motum moved into sixth place among the Cougars all-time scoring leaders, passing Marcus Moore. With 1,471 points, he is now 25 points away from moving into fifth. Motum also added 11 rebounds, marking his fourth double-double of the season and seventh of his career.
The Cougars shut down freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad and the Bruins down in the first half. Muhammad made just one of his first eight attempts from the field, and UCLA only shot 30-percent (7-23) in the first half. Muhammad ended the game with 14 points on 4-19 shooting.
WSU head coach Ken Bone got his 69th win as a Cougar, moving into a three-way tie with Tony Bennett (2006-09) and Kevin Eastman (1995-99).