PULLMAN, Wash. — It’s tough to drive through the forests of Pullman, Wash., especially with the roadblock that Washington State is throwing up this basketball season.
UCSB had seven shots swatted and many others altered by the Cougars in its 73-65 defeat at Beasley Coliseum on Monday.
“We were just shell-shocked,” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said.
Efe Abogidi, a springy 6-foot-10 sophomore from Nigeria, stuffed UCSB six times.
“He literally tells me, ‘Yo, just let ‘em go so I can block them … I promised you that I’ve got your back,’” guard Noah Williams said. “He tells me that every time, and I trust my boy Efe.”
Abogidi also scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“During the scouts with our coach, he was telling us that they thought they were just going to come in here and beat us … that we’re a regular team that’s just not that good,” he said. “That’s what we wanted to prove out here, that we’re not just a normal, regular team.
“We’re THAT team this year. We’ve got to prove it in the Pac (12).”
Although UCSB got a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds from senior star Amadou Sow, Washington State was double-trouble with its front line of Abogidi and 6-11 Mouhamed Gueye of Senegal. They combined for 17 rebounds to help the Cougars win the backboard battle, 36-33.
Washington State (3-0) jumped out to a 23-point lead during the first 17 minutes before holding off a furious, second-half comeback by the Gauchos (1-1).
“This was a really good team that came in here,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “They played in the NCAA Tournament and had an opportunity to beat Creighton last year.
“They were a really good test for us and we really came out and played well during the first half. We were really energized.”
The one-on-one drives that worked for UCSB last week against Division 2 San Francisco State, 119-65, found little success on Monday. The Cougars made six of their seven steals while forcing 10 turnovers during the first 16 minutes.
“We didn’t share the basketball,” Pasternack said. “We turned the ball over. We were really selfish for some reason. It’s not how we practice. It’s not how we play.
“Our offense led to them getting 14 points in transition during the first half because we were turning the ball over and taking bad shots.”
UCSB led 3-2 on Ajare Sanni’s three-pointer, but he went 0-for-5 from the arc the rest of the night. The Gauchos made just one of 13 shots and committed eight turnovers during a fatal, 11-minute drought.
Sanni and his fellow junior wingman, Josh Pierre-Louis, were shot down nearly every time they flew to the hoop. They were a combined 5-for-24 from the field.
Sanni, who finished with 12 points, did help engineer UCSB’s comeback by getting four of his five assists in the second half.
Most of his assists were entry passes to UCSB’s front line. Sow bounced back after missing his first four shots. He went 8-for-16 from the floor and 9-for-11 from the free-throw line to finish with 25 points for the second-straight game.
“He missed some cheapies early on in the first half, and I think it could’ve been a different deal if those go down,” Pasternack said. “But he kept competing and competing.
“He was a monster out there.”
The rest of the Gaucho starters were a meek 8-for-34 (23.5%).
Washington State seized a double-digit lead during the first six minutes. Freshman point guard Ajay Mitchell came off the bench to convert a three-point play and end the Cougars’ run.
“I thought Ajay Mitchell came in the game and really played well in 25 minutes,” Pasternack said. “But our backcourt has got to play better for us to be able to move forward.”
UCSB trailed just 18-10 after two free throws apiece by Sow and Sanni. But a three by Tyrell Roberts keyed another Cougar run of nine points. A tip-in by D.J. Rodman put WSU ahead 39-16 with 3:09 left in the first half.
Sow kept it from getting worse, helping UCSB out-score WSU 9-2 during the final three minutes of the first half. His put-back with 10 seconds on the clock reduced the Gauchos’ deficit to 41-25 at the break.
The Cougars out-shot the Gauchos 52.9% to 30.8% in the first half. UCSB turned the tables in the second half, however, with a 45.5% to 37% advantage.
“In the second half, we were much more patient, getting the ball inside,” Pasternack said. “We won the second half 40-32. But we dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first four wars (four-minute segments).”
Sow’s 16-point second half began with a put-back. Six of his 11 rebounds came off his own team’s misses. He converted a three-point play, two free-throws and a hook shot during a three-minute flurry which whittled Washington State’s lead to 56-42 with 11:24 remaining.
UCSB got within 13 points, 64-50, after Robinson Idehen spelled Sow by muscling in a bank shot and adding two free throws in back-to-back possessions.
But Williams made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars some breathing room at 69-53. He finished with 13 points. Abogidi got his team-high 18 on 6-for-7 shooting from both the field and the free-throw line.
“We’re sharing the ball a lot this year,” he said, noting the five assists recorded by South Alabama transfer Michael Flowers. “We’ve got way more guards passing the ball compared to last year. We’ve got more guys willing to give up the ball to the big guys in the post.”
Freshman Cole Anderson made his first collegiate three-pointer with a 25-footer to get the Gauchos within single digits just before the final buzzer.
“Really good teams will keep coming at you, and we were able to hold them off,” Smith said. “But we played really well. It was probably one of our best non-conference wins since I’ve been here.”