Washington State hosted No, 13 UCLA Thursday night at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA. It was a meeting between a team with the best conference winning streak and one that lost in overtime at home last time out.
That's right. Coach Tony Bennett's team put together a nice three game winning streak after losing their first two Pac-10 games at home.
Coach Ben Howland's Bruins ran out of gas at the end of the second half in their game with ASU last Saturday. They eventually lost the game in overtime.
The question was simply, which streak would continue.
The answer was neither. UCLA would eventually hang on for a 61-59 win.
Before the game Coach Bennett was very clear about how prepared the Cougs were.
We're hungry. We're about due."
- Coach Tony Bennett
Coach Bennett was making reference to the fact that the last time WSU defeated UCLA in Pullman, President Obama was teaching law and hadn't given much thought to pursuing a career in politics.
The game opened up with the Bruins controlling the jump ball. It's rare than anyone takes a tap away from senior Aron Baynes. That set the tone for a night of rarities.
For the opening 8 minutes of play, neither team could get an offensive push.
UCLA jumped out to a 10-4 lead when one of the Cougar young guns came in and changed the energy level. Freshman DeAngelo Casto was on the floor a matter of seconds before he grabbed a board and caused confusion for the UCLA defense.
Instead of settling for jump shots from outside, Casto's presence moved the WSU offense inside. After he blocked a shot and was rewarded with a pass for an easy layup, WSU was back in the game, down just 2 at 12-10 UCLA.
After that, things took a rare turn for Coach Bennett's Cougs.
Despite several time outs and switching defensive assignments, no one wearing a Washington State home jersey could find Bruin forward Nikola Dragovic.
The Cougs finally found him, but by then Dragovic was walking off the floor at halftime. He had a career game in the first half scoring 18 points on 6-7 shooting from behind the three point arc. Dragovic added another basket in the second half for a game high 20 points.
At intermission, UCLA held a comfortable lead 36-24. While the Cougs headed to their locker room with heads down, the Bruins seemed to have the swagger back in their step as they strolled off the court.
In the first twenty minutes, the Bruins shot a sizzling 56% from the floor while knocking down 7-10 3-point shots. They played near flawless ball with only two turnovers.
Though the pace of the game favored WSU, they weren't going to stage a comeback without coming outside on UCLA. Packing in their defense wasn't working because of the white hot shooting by Dragovic and company.
Just a few minutes into the second half, another rare and unusual thing happened. Senior Caleb Forrest caught fire. He began heating up with a 3-point swish that brought WSU back in striking range 42-30, after falling behind early in the second half to UCLA by fifteen points.
With about 7:30 left in the game, Coach Bennett called for a time out after senior Alfred Aboya stepped out and sank a 17' jump shot. Bennett wasn't about to allow Aboya to go off the way Dragovic did in the first half.
Coming out of the time out, WSU ran a play for freshman Klay Thompson to get a good look at a three. He did. His shot hit nothing but net and had the crowd going wild with excitement.
A transition layup by senior Taylor Rochestie followed by a nice 12' jumper by Forrest, who was fouled, and the lead was cut to three at 53-50.
Forrest wasn't done. With five minutes to go, he calmly knocked down another trey to knot the score at 53-53. Forrest finished the game with a career high 19 points on 8-9 shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished off a pair of assists.
The game was tied again at 55-55 before senior Darren Collison made his presence known. The speedy guard showed off his outstanding offensive skills by scoring the next two buckets to put UCLA up by four, a lead they would never relinquish.
Washington State had a couple of chances to tie the game in regulation but couldn't finish the job.
The Cougs were forced to call time out with 4.6 seconds left after the Bruins trapped Forrest outside with the ball.
UCLA denied the first attempt to inbound the ball. Then they played swarming defense on the three WSU players along the front line. Forced by the five second count to get the ball in play, Rochestie hoisted a pass beyond the arc for freshman Marcus Capers who flung a brick that clanged harmlessly off the side of the rim.
The horn sounded to end the game, a particularly frustrating loss because a victory was well within grasp.
Despite coming up two points shy of a win, WSU continues to improve. Coach Bennett's team shot a nice 49% from the field. The young guns, Thompson, Capers and Casto played solid basketball at both ends of the court.
When these two teams meet again on February 21st at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, CA there's a good chance something rare will happen that night. Between now and then, there's a lot of Pac-10 hoops to be played by both teams.