Cougars break losing streak against Huskies

Star players Issac Bonton, Noah Williams combined for 46 points in victory



Head coach Kyle Smith high-fives his players during a game at Beasley Coliseum.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

WSU’s dreaded losing streak finally came to an end as the Cougars’ (10-7, 3-7) defeated the Washington Huskies 77-62 in the first leg of the 2021 Apple Cup series on Sunday.

Senior guard Isaac Bonton led the Cougars once again in scoring with 25 points, as he and the WSU starting lineup combined for 70 points in the win over Washington (3-12, 2-8).

Bonton said this win feels great in terms of not only ending their losing streak but beating their in-state rivals while doing so.

“We got tested in a lot of ways mentally,” Bonton said. “It feels good to get on the other side.”

Sophomore guard and Seattle native, Noah Williams, scored 21 points as the Cougars’ second-leading scorer. Williams said the matchup between the Cougars and the Huskies always sparks a fire in his playing style.

“You just get your flavor back when you come back home, you played on these hoops all your life,” Williams said. “It’s a little more chippy every time you face against U-dub.”

Four of the five starters for WSU had double-digit points, while the remaining starter, freshman forward Andrej Jakimovski, scored zero points. Jakimovski now averages just two points per game in the past six contests, with his last field goal coming against Colorado on Jan. 23.

WSU head coach Kyle Smith said Jakimovski has likely hit a freshman wall and his minutes have gone down a little bit, but his health has allowed him to play every game this season and Smith respects that the most, he added.

Sophomore guard TJ Bamba was inactive in this one against the Huskies with a severe toothache that prevented his participation in this game, Smith said. Bamba, who had a breakout performance against Colorado in WSU’s last game, may or may not be able to play the Cougars’ next game.

WSU started the first half with a bang, going on a 10-0 run that gave them a 12-2 lead. Then, UW battled back and put together an 11-0 run to give themselves the lead. Both teams went through some lead changes here and there, but the Cougars eventually came out on top with all the momentum throughout the first half.

Once WSU started putting together a rhythm on offense, freshman center Efe Abogidi was the center of all of it. With some thunderous dunks down low over the UW rim protectors, his athleticism gave the Cougars a lot of momentum to finish out the first half on top.

Abogidi had 12 points at the half, as he led WSU to a 38-29 lead at halftime. The Cougars didn’t make a single three-pointer in the first half, the first time that has happened this season. However, WSU turned the ball over only five times at halftime, which tied their season-low set back in the non-conference schedule against Portland State.

The second half started, and it was a continuation of WSU’s dominance over UW. Abogidi was locked up offensively following his big first half, but Bonton and Williams quickly took his place and put together a scoring onslaught. The duo put up 31 points collectively in the second half.

Also in the second half, Williams picked up a technical foul with over eight minutes to go for what seemed to be taunting. Williams played on afterward and picked up his second technical with less than a minute to go for similar reasons.

Williams said this matchup always brings out a “spiciness” to his game and he wants to win above all else when he plays the Huskies.

“I feel like we’re unbeatable against the Dawgs. We got the secret formula,” Williams said.

Smith said he knows Williams will play the game with an added bit of tenacity and competitiveness every time he’s on the court. Although Williams and Smith himself need to manage their emotions, Smith said he will always wants a player like Williams to be on one of his teams.

“He’s a fighter, man, and I will take those guys every day of the week,” Smith said. “He aspires to be like a Gary Payton.”

WSU cruised to victory at the end of the half and remain undefeated against the Huskies in the Kyle Smith era.

The Cougars will head to the road once more to face the Oregon Ducks at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon. The game will air on FS1.