The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

MBB back in Beasley as true contenders

Cougs in best form since ‘08
WSU+forward+Jaylen+Wells+jumps+for+a+shot+during+an+NCAA+men%E2%80%99s+basketball+match+against+UW%2C+Feb.+4%2C+2024%2C+in+Seattle.
COLE QUINN
WSU forward Jaylen Wells jumps for a shot during an NCAA men’s basketball match against UW, Feb. 4, 2024, in Seattle.

For five straight games and for eight times in the last nine, WSU men’s basketball has won. Now, they return to Beasley Coliseum in sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 standings and have an upcoming weekend against Cal and Stanford. 

The Cougs started Conference play 1-3, now they are 9-4 and can feasibly win the Pac-12 after having a win over the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats already this season.  

But why have they exceeded expectations and turned their season around? 

Part of it has been sticking to the game plan they set during the preseason despite the success not being there immediately. 

“The morale of the team never went down whenever we won or lost,” junior forward Jaylen Wells said. “Our mindset is kind of unbelievable. This is probably one of the most solid teams I’ve ever been on in our play and mentality.” 

Wells started the season nursing an injury, starting the season with multiple games under 10 minutes played. Now he is playing nearly 40 minutes a night, a testament that sticking to the game plan will bring you far. 

Still, the only way sticking to the plan works is if the team buys in. That is exactly what they have done, thanks in part to how close the team is. 

WSU has a group of guys that come from all different places. Isaac Jones spent one season at Idaho after three at Wenatchee Valley Community College. Rueben Chinyelu came from Nigeria by way of NBA Academy Africa, Oscar Cluff is a junior college product and Myles Rice’s story of missing a season due to cancer is well documented.

Those different backgrounds have perfectly intertwined and brought the team together, with their chemistry off the court increasing their production on it. 

“It really feels like we’re a family, we always look out for one another,” Wells said. 

That chemistry has been especially seen in the team’s defense, which ranks among the nation’s best. 

Entering their weekend series against Cal and Stanford, WSU ranks as tied as the No. 54 team in the nation in scoring defense, according to NCAA

Their biggest team contribution on the defensive end has been their ability to defend the rim. At one point ranked in the top 10 nationally, the team now sits as the No. 18 team in the nation in blocks per game at 5.2.

You can look to Chinyelu for a chunk of that, as the Nigeria product is averaging 1.4 blocks per game despite playing in just 13.9 minutes a game. He feeds off the energy of the crowd, playing exceptionally well at home, notably pumping up the crowd with his celebrations after he makes a big play. 

“They are out there for us, so you have to give them something to be out for,” Chinyelu said. “Got to give them some fire so they keep pouring on the flame.”

His energy and a growing crowd with every home game have given way to a different team when defending their hardwood. Now 11-1 at home, the Cougs avenged their lone home loss to Oregon when they went to Matthew Knight Arena and escaped with just their second win since the new building was erected in 2011. 

The win completed a road sweep against the Oregon schools, the first time the Cougs accomplished the feat since 2009, the year after their last NCAA Tournament team.  

One part of the team that has been very important has been the development of Rice after stepping on the court two years removed from basketball. More than a feel-good story, the record-setting freshman has unlocked an element of game planning unseen since head coach Kyle Smith took over the reins of the team.  

“The better Myles has gotten, the better we’ve been. To have a quarterback that can close out a game is very vital to being good,” Smith said. 

Rice is now a six-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week winner, a WSU record and one shy of the Pac-12 record set by Evan Mobley. The 6-foot, 3-inch guard is averaging 15.6 points, 3.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. With a career-high of 35 and five games over 20 points, Rice is a proven playmaker and scorer who is always lethal with the ball in his hands. 

Given the praise of his coach of being clutch, Rice and the rest of the team need to continue their clutchness as the season progresses to its end if they want to snap the decade-plus-long drought of NCAA Tournament men’s basketball from Pullman.

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.