About Last Night: Cougs outlast Colorado for another huge win

A perfect weekend pushed the Cougs to within a half game of 1st place.

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The Colorado Buffaloes came into Beasley Coliseum yesterday as the hottest team in the Pac-12, winners of four straight by an average margin of 16.5 points — including a 17-point victory at Washington on Wednesday.

The Cougs snatched that mantle by sending them back to Boulder with a 78-69 loss in which the Buffs never held a lead after the first two minutes of the game.

WSU improves to 15-6 overall and 6-4 in the Pac-12 — just one half game behind league leaders Arizona and Oregon with the conference season at the midway point.

In A Minute

  • CougCenter recap

  • Stats

  • Line o’ the night: Jaylen Wells with 17 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes.

  • One stat to tell the tale: Just 6 turnovers for the Cougars.

Tourney Check

WELL WELL WELL

Those gray boxes are the “last four in.”

Highlights

Three Thoughts

1. Wells over Williams

You might remember that Colorado was missing Tristan da Silva and Cody Williams in the first matchup between these teams. Both of those guys have returned, and it’s the performance of Williams that has largely spurred the Buffs’ surge over the last couple of weeks, as his versatile skill set has been a great complement to slasher extraordinaire, KJ Simpson. Jaylen Wells drew the assignment on Williams, a 5-star true freshman who sits atop many NBA mock draft boards as the projected No. 1 pick.

Wells — an uptransfer from Division II — owned him.

Wells outscored Williams 17 to 6 while playing 37 minutes to Williams’ 27. He also grabbed 10 rebounds (including 4 offensive) to Williams’ 6 (2 offensive). When Wells was on the floor, the Cougs were plus-10; when Williams was on the floor, Colorado was minus-11.

Wells also rocked this fit:

2. Five against Eight

Look, I’m not generally one to complain that refs are out to get my team. When it comes to the Pac-12, I just think the officiating is generally not good enough, and when it feels like your team is getting jobbed, just wait a while and they’ll screw someone else. They get everyone sooner or later, so I’m not going to sit here and say yesterday’s crew had it out for WSU.

But I will say that yesterday’s crew was particularly challenged, and the incompetence clearly had swung against WSU in the second half. The crew working the game probably had no business being assigned to this one. Verne Harris is a well-known official who works lots of Pac-12 games, but he’s also well known for being pretty iffy. Meanwhile, Jim Schipper was working his first Pac-12 game this year, while Sturdivan — as near as I can tell — was working his first Pac-12 game ever. They were not up for managing the intensity of this contest.

In a game that was extremely physical on both ends, Colorado somehow had only three fouls heading into the final minutes, while WSU had eight. The Buffs repeatedly got the benefit of the doubt, while the Cougs did not. On one play that sticks out, Isaac Jones had a clean block, only to get called for a phantom foul, leading to a Kyle Smith stomping fit — which he got away with. A couple of minutes later, Myles Rice was wiped out on a drive and this time Smith did not get away with his protests, getting T’d up.

While the ref probably had no choice but to give the tech — Smith was way out on the floor to express his displeasure — it was hard to blame him for losing his cool; to get such a bad whistle on your home court is pretty insulting to a coach. The funniest moment to me — which I can laugh about now, because we won — was when the refs tried to give the ball to Colorado on a rebound that clearly went off Tristan da Silva, then had to review it, clearly seeing their blunder, and the ref still reflexively pointed Colorado’s direction before correcting himself.

This sort of adversity can cause a team to lose its cool, and its focus. Heck, Smith’s T took a 10-point game with 5:33 remaining to a 6-point game with five minutes to go thanks to four consecutive free throws by KJ Simpson. It could have fallen apart. And it looked like it might, when WSU went the next two minutes without scoring, and Simpson hit a triple to close the margin to just 3 with three minutes to go.

But then …

3. Big bucket getters

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Perhaps the biggest difference between this squad and Smith’s first four is that he now has a pair of guys he can go to when his team absolutely has to have a bucket.

Following Simpson’s 3, Jones went to work in the post. It was a point in the game in which things felt extremely precarious for the Cougs. All he did was put Eddie Lampkin on skates to push the margin back up to 5.

Then, it was Rice’s turn. When Simpson cut it back to 3 a minute later with (what else) a pair of free throws, Rice answered back with a drive on which he (miraculously) got a foul call. He drained both free throws. Lampkin closed it back to 3 with a post move that featured about six shuffle steps through the lane, but Rice came back again with a slicing drive to the rim to make it 5 with a minute to play. Then, Williams missed a jumper (heh), and Rice sealed the deal with yet another gorgeous drive to the rim, dropping in a finger roll with 39 seconds to play to push the margin up to 7.

Stone. Cold. Killers.

Up Next

On the heels of two emotional victories — two games where the stakes clearly were not lost on the players — the Cougs get a little break with no midweek game before heading to Washington on Saturday. The Huskies (12-9, 4-6) have sort of been all over the place with their performances, but they do feature one of the better players in the conference in Keion Brooks.

And, of course, it’s a rivalry game. THROW OUT THE RECORDS.

Tip off will be at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network.

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