After suffering their first loss last week to top five NC State, the Cougars women’s basketball team got back to their winning ways with a pair of wins in week four. The men’s team would pick up a win in unprecedented defensive fashion to open up Pac-12 play but would fall short of an upset at home.
Men’s Basketball (1-1)
The Cougs opened up conference play on Wednesday against the Arizona State Sun Devils down in Tempe. But it took awhile for that game to look like a division one basketball game with both teams combining for just 28 total points in the first half. That’s not a typo. After the Cougs jumped out to an early 10-0 lead not even three minutes into the game, it would take another 11 minutes and 24 seconds before the next ball fell through the west hoop. Miraculously, that made layup from Efe Abogidi would actually extend the Cougs lead to seven. During that 11 minute span, there was a combined scoring drought of more than seven and a half minutes from both teams. It would take another three minutes for the next Coug points to push the lead to four. When the halftime buzzer mercifully sounded amongst the reign of boos coming from the Sun Devil faithful, the score sounded more like a football score than a division one basketball score. 18-10 Cougars.
During halftime, the arena staff must have finally decided to remove the lids off the east basket to finally allow the Sun Devils to put up some points. They must have forgotten that the teams flip sides. The second half was much kinder to the Cougar offense as they would nearly double their first half total with 33 points. Arizona State would also nearly double their first half total but that wouldn’t even be remotely close to enough. The Sun Devils would put up five points in the final minute of the game to match half of the total points they scored in the first 21+ minutes of the game and represent more than a quarter of their second half points. The final score read 51-29 Cougars.
This wasn’t just a poor shooting night from both teams, it was a defensive masterclass from Kyle Smith and his team. While it helped that Arizona State missed six of it’s eight free throw attempts and multiple open shots, the Cougar defense limited the number of decent looks ASU could get all night long. ASU would finish the game shooting 21.1% from the field (12/57) and 11.5% from three (3/26)
No. 20 USC
The Pac-12 home opener was next up for the Cougs and it was a big one. The No. 20 ranked Trojans, sitting at ninth in the KenPom rankings, came in to town riding high off a 7-0 start to the season. WSU would start the game hot and play with a ton of energy. After a back and forth start to the half, a T.J. Bamba three with 9:27 to go in the first half would give the Cougs a seven point lead. The Trojans would respond out of the timeout and close the lead to just two going into the half.
USC would start the second half with a 9-0 run to take their own seven point lead. WSU would finally wake up and battle their way to a lead with 10:21 to go. The Cougs would hold on to a narrow lead for the next six minutes before USC eventually would tie the game at 54 with an Isaiah Mobley three. The Trojans would push ahead and take the lead twice but Noah Williams would answer both times. With 51 seconds left, Drew Peterson would hit the elbow jumper to give the Trojans the lead back. On the other end just 13 seconds later, down by two, T.J. Bamba would drill this career high third three-pointer of the game to send Beasley Coliseum into a frenzy that the nearly 50-year-old arena hadn’t seen in a long time. All WSU needed now was a stop. With 18 seconds left, USC’s Boogie Ellis would blow right past Michael Flowers and find Chevez Goodwin in the paint who put it up and in while drawing the contact for an and one. Goodwin would knock down the free throw to give the Trojans a two point lead. Noah Williams would try and tie the game by driving to the right and seemingly beat USC’s Max Agbonkpolo to the spot with a move that sent Agbonkpolo nearly out of bounds. Williams went up for the 10 footer but Agbonkpolo was able to get a high on the shot after an incredible recovery. USC would give WSU a chance after missing the one-and-one free throw opportunity. Williams would once again get another chance to be the hero but his three at the buzzer fall short, hitting the front of the rim. USC survives 63-61.
Overall Thoughts on Week Four
The Arizona State game was enough evidence that the defense has improved from last week. They held Arizona State to the lowest points they’ve scored in a game since 1946 and the Trojans to a mere 16.7% from three. Overall, they held two Pac-12 teams to a combined about 17.9% from three this week.
The ASU game was a once in a century poor shooting performance by ASU combined great defensive effort from WSU. It’s highly doubtful we see another game end with WSU holding an opponent to under 30 points but it isn’t crazy to think that WSU can win another defensive battle.
As for the USC loss, while it would have been an incredible resume boosting win, if there was ever such thing as a good resume loss, this one is it. USC came in ranked top-ten in KenPom and WSU was able to hold their own for all 40 minutes despite their leading scorer not recording a single point and came within just inches of hitting a game-winner. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Next Up: Week Five
Two games on the east side of Washington in two different arenas against two top-100 KenPom teams. The first game comes on Wednesday night in a battle of WSU cats supremacy when Damian Lillard’s alma mater Weber State Wildcats (8-0) come to Pullman. The Cougs will then make the jaunt up north to go play a “neutral-site” game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-2).
WSU will look to take their frustration out from the USC loss on Weber State. The Wildcats have won all but one of their games fairly comfortably. Their toughest opponent so far though has been UMASS who currently sits 121st in KenPom.
South Dakota State is one of the better offensive teams in the nation. They’ve put up at least 80 points in nine of their 10 games with the outlier being a loss to Washington, 87-76. The Cougs defense will need to hold down the Bunnies excellent offense before they get on an offensive roll the Cougs can’t keep up with.
Women’s Basketball (2-0)
It had to be a little disheartening for the Women’s Basketball team to check the weather app and see they were returning to a nearly 40 degree colder Pullman after spending week three in the Bahama’s. But after getting rocked by No. 5 NC State to end their trip, WSU was looking forward to a promising rebound week that started with hosting the Dons of San Francisco.
It was yet another slower start for WSU as the Dons Jasmine Gayles hit her first three threes of the game in the first quarter to give San Francisco a 16-11 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. The Dons would open the second quarter with a seven point run to push their lead to 12. Charlisse Leger-Walker would snap the Dons run with her own third three of the game which would open up to a 10 point WSU run to pull within two. An Ula Motuga three to end the second quarter would give WSU it’s first lead of the game going into half at 30-27.
The Cougar defense would limit the Dons to just nine third quarter points while the offense continued to accelerate, putting up 20 points in the fourth quarter. Charlisse Leger-Walker would takeover and put the game away in the forth. She would knock down all three of her field goal attempts and all five of her free throws in a 12 point final quarter to finish the game with 27 points and a 72-58 win. Bella Murekatete would add 16 points of her own putting on a footwork clinic in the paint with some nifty moves.
The Leger-Walker sisters would open up the scoring in the first quarter for WSU on a fastbreak off a steal that resulted in Krystal using a nasty spinning pump fake to get the defender to blow right past her for the easy reverse two. This fastbreak would set the tone for the rest of the quarter as the Leger-Walker’s would score 13 of the 18 WSU points in arguably WSU’s best first quarter this season. The Cougs would only turn it over twice in each of the first two quarters and force 14 total turnovers from the Aggies in the first half alone, as they would take a commanding 20 point first half lead into the locker room.
The Cougs would go on cruise control for the second half, outscoring the Aggies 32-30 in route to a comfortable 71-49 win. The Leger-Walker ended up scoring 11 more after the first quarter to combine for 24. Murekatete would lead all scorers with 14 and Michaela Jones would tack on 11 points off the bench, including three threes.
Overall Thoughts on Week Five
This was exactly the week the Cougs were looking for. They played well against a fine San Francisco team and dominated a worse UC Davis team.
We also saw the return of Ula Motuga to the starting five after only playing in select minutes in the Bahama’s last week. Tara Wallack moved to the bench to open up a spot for Johanna Teder’s sharpshooting as well.
Next Up: Week Five
A quick day trip up to Spokane to play the Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-1) who sit just 19 spots behind WSU in the RealTimeRPI rankings on Wednesday will be another good early-season test for the Cougs. The Zags only loss comes to the reigning national champion No. 4 Stanford Cardinal but only four.
Boise State (2-5) will make good use of the new flight connection from Boise to Pullman when they come west on Sunday for a noon matinee.