Not only had UCLA won eight consecutive games against the Cougars, but they’d won 19 in a row in Pullman. Oh, and the Cougars were playing without starting guards DaVonté Lacy and Mike Ladd. And rumors continued to fly about the future of coach Ken Bone.
The result was improbable even in the wacky world of college basketball. The last-place Cougars raced to a 19-2 lead against a listless UCLA squad and knocked the Bruins out of first place in the Pacific-12 Conference with a 73-61 victory that ranks with one of the most unlikely upsets in WSU sports history.
“I’m so happy for the guys,” Bone said. “I’ve said many times, they’re a great group of kids. It’s one of my most favorite teams I’ve ever coached.”
Brock Motum led the Cougars with 20 points, and Royce Woolridge added 19. The Cougars (12-18, 3-14 Pac-12) learned Tuesday that Lacy suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in Sunday’s game at Washington, so the sophomore out of Curtis High School joined Ladd (also out with a knee injury) on the sideline.
“He’s a huge part of program,” Bone said of Lacy. “He’s one of the captains. One of our leaders.”
Motum, who tied his career high of 11 rebounds, was just one of many leaders on the Cougars against UCLA (22-8, 12-5).
Dexter Kernich-Drew scored 11 points and had a career-high 11 rebounds for WSU; Will DiIorio made his third start of the season and contributed eight points and a career-high seven rebounds; and D.J. Shelton produced 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.
“Credit to them; they played awesome,” UCLA guard Jordan Adams said.
“They lose Lacy and Ladd; you’ve got to give them a ton of credit,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “I thought Ken Bone did a great job of keeping his guys positive.”
Howland wasn’t nearly as impressed with his own coaching work.
“Obviously, a disappointing loss and effort,” he said. “The way we came out defensively was poor.
“I take full responsibility. Obviously, I didn’t have our guys fearful of losing this game, because we didn’t come out with the emotion and intensity that we needed to have.”
Washington State outrebounded UCLA by a whopping 46-23 margin, including 21-10 on the offensive glass. The Bruins trailed 35-24 at the half and cut the deficit to six on a Shabazz Muhammad 3-pointer early in the second half, but the Cougars held tough and finished off the Bruins with three consecutive dunks before a gathering of 4,268 fans.
The first of those dunks, a vicious two-hander, was delivered by DiIorio. Bone again had praise for the hard-working junior, a former walk-on out of Bainbridge High.
“I think he has a lot of influence on other guys as far as, it (his effort) becomes contagious,” Bone said. “All of a sudden, the guys are just scrappin’. ”
“It’s been a while since we’ve got a win and we’ve been in every game, pretty much,” DiIorio said. “To get a win like that is great, especially against a ranked team.”
Motum has family and friends visiting from his native Australia. The Cougars finish league play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at home against USC.