PULLMAN – The Washington Huskies came to the Palouse to bury the Bone. Instead, they granted Ken Bone a stay of execution.
The Washington State Cougars quieted – however temporarily — the increasing clamor of fans calling for Bone’s head by giving Cougars fans what they cherish most: A win over the Huskies.
WSU won few style points by shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 61.8 percent at the free-throw line in Saturday afternoon’s 72-67 triumph at Beasley Coliseum. However, the Cougars survived a tense finish to end a painful stretch of six consecutive losses to the Huskies
“It’s real important, especially with the season we’ve been having,” WSU senior forward D.J. Shelton said.
Shelton led the Cougars with 20 points and career highs of 18 rebounds and four steals. Still, the most important WSU player may have been DaVonte Lacy. The junior guard from Tacoma played 33 minutes and scored 10 points (despite 2-for-10 shooting) in his first game since suffering a rib injury Jan. 5 at Arizona State.
“It’s not just the numbers he puts up; it’s his presence,” Bone said. “We know we’ve got a good player who is confident.
“He’s a good leader. It showed up many, many times during the course of the game: Time-outs, huddles on the court, at halftime in the locker room.
“He’s one of those guys that just keep keeps the team together. Just having him on the court gives us kind of a calming effect.”
The Cougars (9-12, 2-7 Pac-12), who put the offense in offensive by averaging just 49.1 points in their other Pac-12 games, established a season high for points in a conference game. Perhaps more impressively, WSU had a season-low five turnovers and outrebounded the Huskies 39-36 (including 14-11 on the offensive glass) one game after Oregon thumped WSU 43-24 on the glass.
“The rebounding, that hurt us a lot,” Washington senior guard C.J. Wilcox said.
“Once the shot went up, we did a good job of putting a body on a body,” Shelton said.
The Huskies (13-9, 5-4) nursed small leads most of the first half, then went up 42-34 on a Wilcox 3-pointer with 13 1-2 minutes left in the game. The Cougars then reeled off 12 unanswered points and were never headed.
Asked if his team relaxed with the eight-point lead, Wilcox said, “I don’t think so much relaxing, but we were definitely feeling good at where we were at.”
Some of those good feelings were erased for the Huskies during WSU’s 12-0 run when Shawn Kemp Jr. – downright lonely under the basket – blew a tomahawk dunk. The ball went soaring, as did the crowd noise, even though a season-high turnout of 5,796 still left Beasley half empty.
“The crowd was great,” Shelton said. “Beasley was real good tonight. We felt the energy early.”
Lacy capitalized on that energy in the second half. He missed his first seven shots before capping the 12-0 spurt with a 3-pointer from the right corner in front of the WSU students.
“They were rockin’ with me,” Lacy said. “I could feel the energy. “Every shot I took, I felt like they were just ready to explode, so I felt like that shot (his 3-pointer) was for them.”
“That shot” was a matter of personal pride, too. Lacy, who starred at Curtis High School, does not hide his bitterness about not being recruited by Washington.
“I didn’t get no calls from them,” he said. “No recruiting letters.”
The Huskies certainly could have used Lacy’s calm, heady play on Saturday. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who set a Huskies freshman record with 32 points against Oregon State in Washington’s previous game, accounted for half of the Huskies’ 12 turnovers.
Williams-Goss scored 11 points to join three other Huskies in double figures, led by Wilcox’s 24 on 9-for-14 shooting (including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc). WSU junior point guard Royce Woolridge scored only five points, but he had no turnovers. WSU freshman wing Que Johnson scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half.
“Que’s a really poised young man,” Bone said. “You’ll never see him get excited.”
“He came out in the second half and was big for us,” Shelton said. “He hit some real big shots, and his energy was great. We just did a good job feeding off of him.”
Shelton hopes that good vibe carries forward. The Cougars, who came in last in the Pac-12 a year ago, emerged from a last-place tie with USC when the Trojans lost to Oregon State on Saturday.
“It’s a great place to start now in the Pac-12,” Shelton said. “In the second half, just come out and turn our season around.”
Bone, mindful of WSU’s 0-5 record in Pac-12 games away from Beasley, cautioned that the Cougars “have to get some wins on the road.” The same can be said of the Huskies (13-9, 5-4), who dropped out of a third-place tie by dropping to 1-4 in Pac-12 road games.
The Huskies shot the ball better than WSU from the field (43.9 percent), from 3-point range (40.0 percent) and from the free-throw line (69.2). However, Washington’s guard-heavy lineup makes rebounding a challenge, and when the bench players on a low-scoring team like WSU outscore Washington’s reserves 18-4, bad things are bound to happen in a rivalry game.
“It definitely stings a lot more (losing to the Cougars),” Wilcox said.
“Loose balls – it seemed like they (the Cougars) capitalized on every one of them,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Bone, a former Huskies assistant coach under Romar, described Washington as “a very good ball club.” The jury is still out on that statement, but a verdict may come when the Huskies (like the Cougars) play four of the next six games on the road.