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Will to win; WSU mens basketball upsets UCLA

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Will to win; WSU mens basketball upsets UCLA

Senior guard Will DiIorio finishes a layup during a game against UCLA in Beasley Coliseum, Saturday, March 8.

Senior guard Will DiIorio finishes a layup during a game against UCLA in Beasley Coliseum, Saturday, March 8.

Senior guard Will DiIorio finishes a layup during a game against UCLA in Beasley Coliseum, Saturday, March 8.

Senior guard Will DiIorio finishes a layup during a game against UCLA in Beasley Coliseum, Saturday, March 8.

Evan Baron | Evergreen men's basketball reporter

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WSU men’s basketball Head Coach Ken Bone told his players to play for each other in their final game at Beasley Coliseum against the UCLA Bruins. The Cougars played the game for their seniors, guard Will DiIorio and forward D.J. Shelton, and sent the two seniors out with the gift of a 73-55 win against the Bruins (23-8, 12-6) Saturday night.

“I thought it (senior night) was real good. I thank my teammates, the fans that made it to the game, my coaches,” Shelton said. “It was a great experience.”

With less than a minute remaining in the game and the Cougars (10-20, 3-15) leading by 18 points, Bone decided to give DiIorio a chance to finish his career as a Cougar on a high note.

WSU junior guard DaVonte Lacy dribbled up the court and passed to DiIorio under the basket, and DiIorio laid the ball up, which fell through the net for two points. His head coach, teammates and fans all screamed for joy as DiIorio scored the final basket of the game and his final basket at home as a Cougar.

“That was awesome,” Bone said. “Really proud of DaVonte to create that, you could just tell, he tried to make that happen and here’s a guy that’s one of the leading scorers in the league, and what was he trying to do, he was trying to get the ball to Will DiIorio, and I think that shows a lot of character on his part.”

DiIorio said it was great to score and he was happy to hear the support of the crowd. The senior also mentioned how happy he was to be at WSU for four years.

After suffering an 11-point home loss to the USC Trojans Thursday, it seemed as if the same story would be told on Saturday night as the Bruins started the game on a 9-0 run. Bone called a timeout in order to regroup his players. From that point the Cougars immediately responded and fought back.

“We just talked about ‘let’s just calm down, it’s a 40 minute game, we’ve had a bad first two minutes, but let’s just calm down and let the game come to us and we’ll be fine,’” Bone said.

And fine the Cougars were, as the team managed to climb back in the game and eventually take the lead after WSU redshirt junior guard Dexter Kernich-Drew knocked down a 3-pointer to give his team a one-point lead with less than five minutes left in the first half. From that point on the Cougars never trailed.

WSU freshman point guard Ike Iroegbu helped stabilize the lead by dishing the ball to Shelton, who finished with a dunk that shook the arena and then converted on a lay-up while being fouled.

“I thought maybe (Iroegbu) had his best overall game,” Bone said.

The Cougars entered the halfway mark up eight points and did not take their foot off the gas pedal. Part of that had to do with WSU redshirt freshman guard Que Johnson who scored eight points in the first six minutes of the second half. Johnson and Iroegbu each finished the night as the leading scorers for the Cougars with 14 points.

The Cougars leading scorer of the season, Lacy, finished the night scoring 9 points and hitting one field goal the entire game.

“DaVonte is a great scorer, we shared the ball,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t really making shots, but we did a good job of making the extra pass for a great shot.”

Four players including Johnson and Iroegbu scored in double figures. The WSU bench as a whole scored 40 points in the win. 

“Everyone in our program would love to see DaVonte have a great game every night,” Bone said. “He’s such a great kid, who works hard, super attitude, but it is nice to know that some other guys stepped up when DaVonte wasn’t having his greatest game.”

The Cougars outscored the Bruins by 10 points in the second half, which resulted in their third Pac-12 win of the season. UCLA shot 33 percent from the field and converted 5 of 23 three-point attempts. Bruin starters redshirt senior forwards Travis and David Wear each scored fewer than five points, and sophomore guard Jordan Adams scored seven points. Bothell, Wash., native freshman guard Zach LaVine was held scoreless.

“I think some of those kids did not play up to par,” Bone said. “That’s not to take anything away from our guys. They (UCLA) are loaded with great talent, so yeah naturally a couple of them did have a real good game, so I thought our guys did a good job on the defensive end to hold them to 55 (points).”

Even though the Bruins came into this game as the second best team in the Pac-12 conference, the Cougars were not intimidated and knew they could get the victory despite struggling in conference play. 

“We kind of figured they (UCLA) were just going to come in and underestimate us,” Shelton said. “We knew we just had to play stronger and more aggressive and have more energy than them.”

The Cougars know they’ll be underestimated when they play in the Pac-12 Tournament next week in Las Vegas, but a win against the Bruins helped build their confidence.

“It just means we can play with anybody especially going into the tournament,” Johnson said.

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Will to win; WSU mens basketball upsets UCLA