Washington State achieves historic victory, topples No. 5 Arizona in Tucson
Washington State pulled off one of its best wins in program history. That much is certain.
But considering WSU’s history against top-five opponents on the road — and Arizona’s winning tradition on its home court — an argument can be made that it was the Cougars’ most impressive regular-season win of all time.
WSU picked up its first road win over a top-five AP team, beating fifth-ranked Arizona 74-61 on Saturday at the McKale Center in Tucson.
It marked the Cougars’ first win over a top-five opponent since beating No. 4 UCLA in Pullman in 1983. WSU had lost 37 straight games against top-five teams before upsetting the Wildcats.
“I had no idea it was probably the biggest win for our program in 30, 40 years, since (former coach George Raveling),” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “Experience matters, and doing it on the road is even more special.”
The Cougars (7-10, 2-4 Pac-12) snapped Arizona’s 28-game home winning streak. WSU secured its second win over the Wildcats (14-2, 3-2) in its last 18 games.
Arizona, which entered the game boasting the most productive offense in the country, was held to season lows in points and field goal percentage (31.7%).
“Outstanding,” Smith said of WSU’s defensive effort. (Arizona’s) interior offense is so powerful. We just tried to limit their catches (under) as best we could, and I think that helped us. We blocked a lot of shots (five). You have to make some plays to win and we made some big plays.”
WSU opened up a 10-point halftime lead as guard Jabe Mullins hit back-to-back three-pointers and guard TJ Bamba followed with a banked 3-pointer. The Cougars put it away in the first 7 minutes of the second half, extending their lead to a game-high 18 points with 12:44 left after forward DJ Rodman hit two straight 3s.
The Wildcats rallied late to cut the deficit to five points with about 5 minutes left, but the Cougars regrouped and put away Arizona the rest of the way. Bamba answered with back-to-back baskets, then assisted Mouhamed Gueye for a corner 3 — which beat the shot clock — and the Cougars extended their lead to 12 points with 1:54 left, enough to pull away Wildcats.
“We’ve been in that situation before and let one get away against UCLA,” Smith said, referring to WSU’s 67-66 home loss to the 11th-ranked Bruins on Dec. 30. The Cougars led for 38 minutes in that game but slipped down the stretch.
“TJ really stepped up,” Smith said. “I spoke to him at the beginning of the game: “They are pressuring us. In that situation, somebody’s going to have to get past somebody and put on a show.’ And he made a really difficult conclusion. … You have to do that to win a road game. You will have to make some 3’s to win on the way. They’re a really good offense, so you can never relax.”
The best 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12, WSU finished 12 of 28 and limited Arizona to 4 of 25 from 3-point range.
The Wildcats had a significant size advantage, but WSU stayed aggressive on defense and largely prevented Arizona from exploiting the mismatch. The Wildcats defeated the Cougars 45-41.
WSU committed just nine turnovers, limiting the Wildcats’ run-and-gun attack.
“We didn’t return it. That helps,” Smith said. “When they’re in transition, they just get so much momentum.”
The Cougars were a 13-point underdog against the Pac-12 favorite, but controlled the lead for more than 32 minutes to bounce back from a loss to Arizona State on Thursday.
Gueye, a sophomore, had perhaps his best game in a WSU uniform. He scored a season-high 24 points (10 of 22 from the floor), adding 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year.
“Mo’ was really motivated,” Smith said. “He didn’t feel like he played his best game at Arizona State and he answered the bell. … He kind of led the charge.”
Mullins contributed 13 points, shooting 3-of-4 from 3. Guard Justin Powell added 12 points – all in the first half – and Rodman scored 11 points. Bamba totaled nine points, shooting 3-of-11 from the field, but “made all the game-winning plays” late, Smith noted, and played tight defense. Arizona standout guard Kerr Kriisa.
Kriisa had 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. All-conference forward Azuolas Tubelis scored 29 points (9-of-20 from the field) and pulled down 14 rebounds. Arizona center Oumar Ballo added 11 points, shooting 4 of 11 from the floor.
It’s been an up-and-down season for WSU, but the Cougars proved they can hang with — and beat — any team in the conference.
“Really proud of our guys,” Smith said. “We had a really difficult schedule.
“The first six league games have been tough, against top-ranked opponents and none higher than Arizona. I have a lot of respect for what they do, and our guys just came together, gave a tremendous effort, played really hard and played until the final whistle.”
The Cougars return home for a two-game stand against Bay Area schools, starting at 8:00 PM on Wednesday against California.