Washington St. 55, UCLA 48
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Washington State coach Dick Bennett gave his team a history lesson upon arriving at Pauley Pavilion, where the Cougars had never won.
“This place housed the greatest players, teams and the best coach in NCAA history,” he said. “I pointed to each of the banners and mentioned the ones I remembered. We needed to come out with the energy to match the feeling of this building.”
Did they ever.
Thomas Kelati scored 15 points, Jeff Varem added 13 and Washington State defeated UCLA 55-48 Thursday night, beating the Bruins for the first time in Los Angeles.
“This was a big win,” Varem said. “We beat a good team in a place with a lot of history.”
The Cougars (10-10, 4-6 Pac-10) blew all but two points of a 14-point lead in the second half, but recovered to end a 46-game losing streak against the Bruins in the city—including an 0-38 record at Pauley Pavilion.
“I told the team that if it is going to happen, it’s right now because they are a young team in a new program,” Bennett said. “This one is so important because it shows we are pointed in the right direction.”
John Wooden, the man who coached UCLA to 10 of its 11 national championships, watched from behind the Bruins’ bench as the Cougars made history.
“There’s a first time for everything and unfortunately it was this year,” first-year UCLA coach Ben Howland said, his voice quieter than it’s been after any game this season.
Washington State hadn’t had much luck against the Bruins on its home court, either. The Cougars had lost 22 consecutive games to UCLA, with their last victory coming in 1993 in Pullman.
“I heard a rumor that we can’t win here,” Varem said. “We had to come together and play hard to pull this one off. We came out feeling good and feeling we could win this game.”
Howland said earlier in the week that the Cougars were a dangerous team. Indeed, they’ve snapped several losing streaks in their first season under Bennett, who has installed the same grinding defensive scheme that he used in guiding Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four.
The Cougars broke a 27-game road losing streak in November in Alaska; stopped a 22-game Pac-10 road losing skid at California in January; then beat Southern California last month to stop a nine-game slide against the Trojans.
The Cougars nearly beat No. 12 Arizona last Saturday, but lost 61-57.
“They had us playing at their tempo. They took every opportunity and made the best out of it,” UCLA senior T.J. Cummings said. “It hits me like a dagger every time. I hate to lose.”
UCLA (9-9, 5-5) continued its tailspin with its sixth straight loss after winning its first five Pac-10 games, including a 48-45 victory over the Cougars on Jan. 8.
The Bruins were held to 19 first-half points, but only trailed by four at the break.
Washington State’s Marcus Moore opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Kelati followed with another. Moments later, the Cougars ran off 11 straight points for a 40-26 lead with 11:36 remaining.
The Bruins fought back with a 17-5 burst that left them trailing 45-43 with 3:27 remaining. Cummings scored nine points in the spurt, but that would be the Bruins’ best effort the rest of the way.
“We almost gave it away,” Bennett said. “When they erased the big lead I noticed we were shook. Some timely rebounds on offense sealed the win for us.”
Kelati made two free throws, then Varem scored inside after Moore grabbed the offensive rebound and Washington State led 49-43 with 1:53 left. The second-smallest crowd of the season at 7,299 began leaving with about a minute to play and the Bruins down by eight.
“With the tradition and history of this program, to be going through this again for a second year in a row is very difficult,” said Howland, who replaced the fired Steve Lavin after UCLA’s worst season in decades.
Cummings and Dijon Thompson led UCLA with 15 points each. Neither team shot better than 36 percent for the game.
UCLA’s total points equaled its lowest of the season. Ironically, 48 points were enough to beat the Cougars earlier.