The Washington Huskies (9-5, 1-0) erased their season-long shooting woes early, sprinting out to a 21-4 lead against Washington State (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12) in their conference opener. It was just enough to beat the Cougars 68-63 Saturday night in Pullman.
Scott Suggs made back-to-back contested jumpers, then an uncontested bucket on a WSU turnover in the final two minutes to give the Huskies a 64-61 lead. After Mike Ladd and Andrew Andrews exchanged free throws, Davonté Lacy capped a horrific shooting night (3-11) by drawing back iron on the potential game-tying three.
UW head coach Lorenzo Romar praised his club’s defense. The Huskies held WSU forward Brock Motum to 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting. The Aussie, who entered the night ranked second in the conference in scoring at 19.7 points-per-game, was a total non-factor in the first half, thanks to Desmond Simmons.
WSU shot just 36.8 percent from the floor while UW tormented a stout Cougar defense with a 54.8 percent mark from the floor.
“I don’t know if it was as much physicality as just being in the way and trying to make it more difficult for him to get touches,” Romar said of his strategy to shut down Motum. “I don’t know if you can take him out of his game, but when guys score like he does they’re thinking ‘I’m going to get mine.’ If he was going to run to the scorer’s table it would have been an emphasis to deny him at the scorer’s table.”
The Cougars fought back to cut the lead to 34-27 by halftime, capitalizing on Mike Ladd’s 10 first-half points to keep the lead within closing distance. The teams traded baskets during the first five minutes of the second half. Leading 41-34, Suggs committed an intentional foul with a two-handed takedown of Lacy when he elevated for a lay in.
The foul sparked a Cougars team that appeared puzzled by UW’s 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense that denied Motum at the high post during the game’s first 30 minutes. The Cougars finally knotted the score when Motum lofted in a runner along the baseline. Following an Aziz N’Diaye lay in, Motum knocked down a three to give the Cougars their first lead of the game at 51-50.
C.J. Wilcox rebounded from a 2-for-12, five-point performance last week against UConn to pace the Huskies with 18 points. The Cougars also had no answer for N’Diaye, the center dropping 14 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes of productive action.
Along with Suggs, both proved instrumental after Will DiIorio buried his third trey of the night to give the Cougars a 59-56 lead with 4:08 remaining. At 7-0, N’Diaye clogged the paint, helping the Huskies win the rebounding battle while altering WSU shots in the key.
“N’Diaye did a great job,” WSU head coach Ken Bone said. “It was the sign of a guy who was a senior and played like a senior. He really brought it and did a great job.”
Romar said his club took a major step after struggling with inconsistency during non-conference play. The coach is now 6-2 against Bone since his former assistant became a head coach at Washington State.
“I just think this (win) reinforces that when you get out there and you’re gritty and you don’t lose your composure – I thought we lost our composure at Connecticut a little bit – we didn’t tonight,” he said. “We stayed with this thing and I think our guys can learn from that.”
The man who held down Motum for 20 minutes wasn’t afraid to hyperbolize, either.
“Honestly, I think so,” Simmons said when asked if he played the best game of his career. “I feel like tonight might have been the best game as far as keying in on defense and not letting a guy like that go off. It’s a big confidence boost to go on the road here and get a win.”