The 16-point margin of victory for the Bruins doesn't tell the story of how this game went down. Not by a long shot.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, freshman guard Malachi Flynn stepped into a long range shot from beyond the arc to change the scoreboard to 35-30 in favor of the visiting Bruins. A couple of minutes later sophomore Robert Franks grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back to keep WSU in touch with UCLA. But the deuce by Franks would be the last points scored by the Cougs over the final 2:50 in the first half and the resulting deficit would prove key.
Make no mistake, Washington State was playing UCLA with a lot of heart. They had to in order to stay within striking distance against a front line that was scoring at will.
Bruin freshman TJ Leaf had a career night scoring 32-points in 35 minutes. Junior seven footer Thomas Welsh's 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting paled in comparison. The pair were a challenge to defend because of their ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court. Indeed, UCLA stomped the Cougars inside the paint, outscoring them 50-32.
Ike Iroegbu scored 20 points for Washington State in the loss. Conor Clifford (pictured above) added 16 points and Josh Hawkinson had 15.
The Wazzu story in the second half mirrored that of the first 20 minutes. Led by a barrage of treys, the Cougs drew to within three points after seven minutes. Not only did they look energized at that point, the 4,109 fans on hand were creating the atmosphere necessary to make things tough on the visitors. But then WSU hit the wall.
"I just thought we had no gas," lamented Ernie Kent during his postgame radio comments with Matt Chazanow. "That has to do with travel, obviously. We tried to rest these last couple of days. We didn't practice on Monday. We just walked through yesterday. We still didn't have energy to play."
Kent went on to attribute this loss to turnovers -- 22-6 in favor of UCLA. What makes that margin sting is the fact the Bruins don't play pressure defense.
The combination of bad passes, sloppy reads and lazy passes by Wazzu made it easy for UCLA to keep the Cougs from getting any closer than three points in the second half.
The fact that Kent doesn't go deep into his bench is a key component to the lack of stamina Wazzu showed once again Wednesday night. Basically, 84 percent of WSU's playing time is given to the five starters. And one of those starters is Flynn who Kent has said previously is hitting the wall as most freshmen do at this point in their first season of play.
Watching WSU this season has been one surprise after another. Fans might see a team that takes full advantage of their senior leaders, or they might witness a ball club that loses their legs down the stretch.
"We played great, all things considered," offered Kent. "We were not ourselves because they wanted to perform for me, they wanted to perform for the students and this community. But I saw a lot of mental fatigue."
All that said, this is a much improved Cougar basketball team in my view. They were very competitive against a couple of nationally ranked teams over the past few days in Arizona and UCLA.
Next up for Washington State will be the other school from Los Angeles, USC. The Cougs will host the Trojans this coming Saturday at 5 pm in Beasley (Pac-12 Network). USC is coming off a road win at Washington, beating the Huskies 82-74 on Wednesday.
- Josh Hawkinson moved into 15th on WSU’s all-time scoring list, passing Carlos Daniel (1995-98), and now has 1,286 career points. He nearly earned another double-double by dishing out a career high nine assists. Hawkinson finished with five rebounds.
- Sophomore Robert Franks posted a Pac-12 high 12 points, his fourth double-figure scoring game of the season.
- WSU had held a three-game home winning streak over UCLA before Wednesday's loss dating back to 2012.