For a few precious minutes in the first half, it was beginning to look like déjà vu all over again for the 6th-ranked Washington State University Cougars men's basketball team. After watching Arizona shoot the lights out in a 12-point win on Thursday, Arizona State jumped out to an early 11-point lead in the first half against the Cougars. But Wazzu torched the Sun Devils in the second half and came away with a 56-55 win in Tempe behind 18 points from senior guard Derrick Low. The win moves the Cougars to 17-2 overall and puts them in a second-place tie with Stanford at 5-2 in the Pac-10.
The game began benignly enough, but it quickly became a potential blowout for the Sun Devils as they took a 20-9 with 8:08 left in the first half. The Cougars helped the Sun Devils' cause with an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers in the first half. But Wazzu came back with an 18-9 run of their own to close the gap to 29-27 at the break, with a couple of crucial three-pointers from redshirt junior forward Daven Harmeling helping to fuel that run.
Wazzu scored the last seven points of the first half, then promptly scored the first 11 points of the second half – highlighted by a 30-foot three-pointer from junior guard Taylor Rochestie for their first second half points - for an 18-0 run that would give them a 38-29 lead. Low was the key figure during the run, scoring half the points on three treys. Wazzu's defense also did their part, holding the Sun Devils scoreless for 6:14 while the offense cut down on the turnovers – with only two for the entire second half. From that point, the Cougars and Sun Devils mostly traded baskets until the 2:50 mark in the game, when Rochestie made a critical foul on a missed three-pointer from the Sun Devils' Ty Abbott. Abbott converted all three free throws and it marked the beginning of a 7-0 Sun Devil surge that brought them to the brink of a home court win.
But senior guard Kyle Weaver and junior center Aron Baynes saved the day for the Cougars. With ASU freshman James Harden, the game's leading scorer with 25 points, looking to take the Sun Devils' shots in crunch time, Weaver drew an offensive charge on Harden with 42 seconds remaining and the Cougars clinging to their one-point lead. When WSU could not score on their ensuing possession, ASU got the ball back with eight seconds remaining on the clock and Harden, once again, was the man with the ball for the Sun Devils, driving to the hoop for the game-winning bucket, only to have "Big Daddy" Baynes alter his shot and Weaver grab the game-ending rebound to preserve the win for Wazzu.
Rochestie tossed in 13 points for the Cougars and Weaver snagged eight boards as Wazzu improved to 9-5 on the road in the Pac-10 under head coach Tony Bennett.
The Cougars will next play California at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 31 at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.
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