There is nothing more dangerous than a cornered Cougar and the UCLA Bruins found that out the hard way. The Washington State University men's hoop team was on the verge of having their post-season chances collapse after their lackluster loss to USC two nights ago. But backed into a corner, the Cougars emerged with a fury that they directed on UCLA as Wazzu defeated the Bruins, 82-81 for only their second win ever at Pauley Pavilion. The victory elevates the Cougars to 6-9 in Pac-10 play and keeps them above .500 and still in play for post-season possibilities at 14-13.
The star of the game was senior guard Taylor Rochestie who was on fire and would not be denied a victory as he scored 14 of the Cougars' last 15 points of the game and racked up a career-high 33 points to lead the scoring for the Cougars. Freshman Klay Thompson joined him in double figures with 15 points while senior Caleb Forrest added 12 points and fellow senior Aron Baynes chipped in 11 points before fouling out.
The first half began looking like Thompson was going to have another career night a la Arizona State as he scored 15 of the Cougars' first 31 points of the half. Wazzu jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead and led 14-11 after making six of their first seven shots in the game. The Cougars extended their lead to eight at 29-21 after Rochestie canned a bucket. But then a three-minute scoring drought promptly ensued and UCLA closed the gap to 29-28. The Cougars regained their shooting touch for the half's final five minutes and went into the locker room with a 42-42 tie. It was a season high in points at halftime and Wazzu shot the lights out at a staggering 68% clip in the first frame.
But it was a familiar scenario for the Cougars, who had held commanding leads against both Oregon State [second half] and USC [first half] in their two previous games, only to watch both the Beavers and Trojans make comeback victory bids. Sure enough, the Bruins opened the second half with a 9-4 scoring spurt to take a 51-46 lead. The Cougars fought back to within one point down at 56-55 midway through the second half but the Bruins had already surpassed Wazzu's nation-leading defensive mark of allowing 54 points per game and there were still 11 minutes left in the game. Despite the pressure to score, Forrest hit a lay-up with 10:55 remaining in the game to put the Cougars up by one and it turned out to be a lead Wazzu would never relinquish.. Junior Nikola Koprivica hit another lay-up and freshman DeAngelo Casto followed with another lay-in and the Cougars were up 61-57 with 7:14 remaining in the game.
From there it was nearly all Rochestie. The senior went on a scoring binge on the Bruins that not only gave him 14 of the game's last 15 points but also 16 of the Cougars' final 21 points of the game. Every time the Bruins came up with a big score from Darren Collison or Nikola Dragovic, Rochestie was there to answer for Wazzu with a dagger of his own as the Pac-10 officials let the two teams play with minimal foul-calls in the final two minutes of the contest. The Cougars held an eight-point lead with just over a minute left to play but the Bruins kept slicing into the lead as they kept intentionally fouling Rochestie and putting him at the line where he scored his final six points. But it was Koprivica at the line with 2.1 seconds remaining and the Cougars clinging to an 82-81 lead and the Bruins out of timeouts. Koprivica missed the first free throw, then intentionally missed his second shot and the Bruins did not have enough time left to get off a decent last-second shot as their final effort from half court fell short, handing Wazzu the win – and hope for post-season play.
Wazzu's next game is against Arizona at 6pm on Thursday, February 26 at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.
+++++++sponsored by Clark's Restaurant+++++++++
Attention COUGAR fans and well-wishers! Winter is here! How can you afford to go one day further without some tasty morsels from Clark's Restaurant in Grays Harbor – home of the Best Hamburger in Twin Harbors for nine consecutive years? Come in for the burger, fresh homemade fries and milkshakes concocted from homemade ice cream. Go ahead, we dare you to try and pass up more than 12 varieties of hamburgers to choose from, full dinners, lunch and full breakfast served daily. Clark's Restaurant 360.538.1487. Seven miles south of Aberdeen, Washington on Highway 101. Proud supporter of CougZone. Mention this ad for a free small hot chocolate.