Cougars win in OT thriller against Bruins

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

The WSU men’s basketball team defeated the UCLA Bruins 79-71 in overtime at Beasley Coliseum to close out their home openers of conference play.

This is the first win for WSU (10-5, 1-1) against UCLA (8-7, 1-1) since 2016, snapping a five-game losing streak.

Junior guard Issac Bonton scored 17 points with five assists and five rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field. Sophomore forward CJ Elleby had 15 points and sophomore forward Aljaž Kunc had 12 points with junior forward Tony Miller adding 11 points off the bench.

Bonton said his recent shooting struggles are not affecting his mentality while on the court and he will keep looking for the open shot.

“I don’t really believe in a slump,” Bonton said. “It just a matter of time before the shots fall.”

Back and forth defensive efforts from both teams in the opening two minutes set the tone for the contest early on. It took WSU three and a half minutes to score their first basket off a corner three from Kunc.

Kunc scored a 4-point play with 6:20 left in the first half to give WSU a 19-18 lead. Kunc recorded nine points at the end of the half and was the leading scorer for WSU at halftime.

UCLA led WSU 33-24 at halftime with both teams combining for 17 turnovers. WSU shot 20.83 percent from the field, which broke its season low for a half set during the game against USC on Thursday.

With 12:10 remaining, WSU went on an 8-2 run in two minutes with four points coming from freshman guard Ryan Rapp. The WSU fans in Beasley erupted after a UCLA timeout with 9:56 remaining and the Cougars would take a 54-53 lead with over seven minutes left in the game on a lay-up from Bonton.

Rapp said the crowd’s energy was incredible and he looks forward to the WSU students returning to make the atmosphere even greater.

“When our students come back, it’s going to be real fun to play in this gym,” Rapp said.

UCLA led WSU 65-62 with 27 seconds left, which lead to WSU timeout. After the timeout, Elleby made a clutch 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game with 15 seconds left.

“[Coach] drew up a nice play for us,” Bonton said. “CJ is a big-time player.”

A defensive play from freshman guard Noah Williams prevented UCLA to get a shot off at the buzzer; this forced overtime in Pullman for the first time this season.

Upon winning the tip, WSU went on an 8-1 run to begin the first two minutes of overtime. UCLA responded by scoring four points and keeping the Cougars scoreless for almost two minutes. Bonton then made another stepback fadeaway jump shot to cease UCLA’s momentum.

More defensive tenacity from Williams shut down the Bruins in the final minute of overtime and gave the Cougars enough to win the game. Smith said he pictured Williams as a future Pac-12 defensive star.

“He’s quick, he goes after the ball, he’s fearless,” Smith said. “He is a disruptor on both ends.”

WSU finished the game shooting 42.4 percent from the field, the highest percentage since facing Incarnate Word.

Smith said he sees this win as a high point for the team and their recent shooting struggles.

“Your team can really get divided in not shooting the ball well,” Smith said. “These guys deserve it. They’re a good group. They’re fun to coach. They’re going to try hard, and they give their best effort.”

WSU will face the California Golden Bears at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California. The game can be seen live on the Pac-12 Networks.