Cougs sweep Apple Cup and secure winning season

TJ Bamba made it happen on a career night



WSU guard TJ Bamba jumps for a layup during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

There is a saying in sports discussions that goes something like “they are getting hot at the right time.” No team in the country is reflecting that idea more than the Cougs, winners of six straight to climb up to a winning season. The Pac-12 Tournament is next, and there is not a team in the Pac-12 that wants to see Wazzu right now.

WSU men’s basketball (16-15, 11-9 Pac-12) secured a winning season with the win over University of Washington (16-15, 8-12 Pac-12) by a score of 93-84 Saturday.

The Cougs came into this game with the fire of a team that had worked so hard just to be in the position for it to matter. Every single starter for the Cougs showed out, and all deserve to be highlighted.

Second on the team in assists and somehow fifth in scoring was Justin Powell. Powell played 36 minutes, second most on the team, and made three three-pointers on 42% from outside to cap off an incredible season from downtown. He has made 40% of his threes on almost six attempts per game this season. 

Against UW he had zero turnovers and four assists. Powell has the third best assist to turnover ratio in the Pac-12 and has played the second-most minutes across the conference. Against UW he had zero turnovers and four assists. 

Leading the team in assists with five and in shooting percentage at 66% was DJ Rodman. Rodman had a great game, hitting 6-of-9 shots and half of his threes for 16 points. There are a lot of nights that 16 points would not be far from the highest-scoring player on the floor, and his 5-to-1 turnover/assist ratio meant he was helping other guys produce too. 

He played 39 minutes, leaving the floor for basically the minimum he could have. You do not get to 93 points as a team without a lot of performances like these and fortunately, the next three starters all did even better.

Mouhamed Gueye scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on good shooting percentages. This double-double made for his 15th of the season, leading the Pac-12 and 11th in the country. He has been a force to be reckoned with, and while he did not lead the Cougs in scoring, he provided a lot, including a highlight that was the dagger that ended the game for the Huskies. 

This highlight came when Gueye drove to the basket in transition, catching a pass from Rodman as he entered the paint. UW’s Braxton Meah was under the rim. The junior center stands at 7-foot-1 and is currently fourth in the Pac-12 in blocks. Mo must not have heard, because he took a flying leap and destroyed the rim to put the Cougs up 14 with just over two minutes remaining.

Sorry Meah, but there is no stopping that. 

It is something of a shock that Gueye managed to get his rebounds when Andrej Jakimovski was out there with him for so much of the game. Jakimovski is not necessarily known for his rebounding, but on a few different occasions this year he has played the role of the small-ball center.

Tonight, with Adrame Diongue still out, Jakimovski had to do more center things than ever. He answered the call and pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds while providing 12 points, a block and a steal. While he struggled a bit with turnovers, he also grabbed six offensive rebounds to make up for it.

Finally, the player everyone has been waiting for. 

TJ Bamba led both teams in scoring on Thursday night. In fact, he scored more than the next two highest Cougs combined. 36 points is a career-high, and he could not have picked a better time to do it. He shot 60% from three and 65% from the field, taking a ton of shots but deserving every single one. 

While he had no major highlight moments, he was the definition of consistency, scoring 16 in the first half and 20 in the second half. WSU had no serious droughts in this game in large part because Bamba kept making it happen when nobody else could.

This team is good. There is no debate to be had about that at this point. If they had been healthy and playing like this back in December, the Cougs would be looking at a top seed in the conference tournament and likely a berth for the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, the tournament hopes are not technically over yet. The winner of the Pac-12 tournament gets an automatic bid. The Cougs are the only team in the Pac-12 to never make a championship game appearance, and what better way to do it than by going on a 10-game winning streak?

The bracket is not set yet, but it is looking like the next game for the Cougs will probably be against Oregon State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Las Vegas.