No. 2 UCLA 53, No. 13 Washington St. 45
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP)—UCLA coach Ben Howland challenged his players before the Washington State game with the goal of winning a second consecutive Pacific-10 Conference championship.
The second-ranked Bruins responded, beating No. 13 Washington State 53-45 on Thursday night to wrap up their second straight title, and the 25th in the illustrious history of the Bruins.
Darren Collison said the Bruins remained focused on that goal throughout the grinding defensive battle.
“We were just trying to win the Pac-10 championship,” he said.
Arron Afflalo scored 14 points to lead UCLA.
After trailing by one at halftime, UCLA scored the first nine points of the second half during a 15-4 run that all but ended Washington State’s hopes of winning the first Pacific-10 championship in its history.
UCLA (26-3, 15-2 Pac-10) had already clinched at least a tie with WSU and the top seed in the tournament before the victory.
Collison said there was no adjustment that accounted for his team’s outburst.
“We picked it up and played with more intensity in the second half,” said Collison, who had 7 points, 8 assists and only 2 turnovers. “Everybody was talking. That was the difference in the game.”
The Bruins made 11 of their first 14 shots to open the second half, while Washington State missed its first six shots and made just one field goal in the opening seven minutes of the second.
The Cougars (23-6, 12-5) fell behind by 10 points, 37-27, and could not make that up during a second half in which they connected on just 8-of-28 shots.
Washington State and No. 23 Southern Cal will play in the regular season finale on Saturday, with the winner claiming second place in the league.
Kyle Weaver, who led WSU with 14 points, said he knew the Cougars needed a lot of results to fall their way in order to tie UCLA for the title.
“We were just trying to play good basketball,” Weaver said. “When you get down eight or 10, it feels like 20 against a good team.”
The Cougars played well in the first half, when they made 50 percent of their shots and took a 23-22 halftime lead on Daven Harmeling’s 3-pointer.
Washington State has the best defense in the Pac-10, and UCLA is second, so points were hard to come by, except during UCLA’s second half opening spurt.
Derrick Low, WSU’s leading scorer at nearly 14 points per game, was held to 2 points. The Cougars made just 1-of-10 3-pointers, although the Bruins made just 2-of-13 from that range.
“They made it hard for our shooters to get an open look,” Low said.
Howland credited his veteran team with keeping its focus in the grinding defensive battle.
“There is no question that success breeds success,” Howland said. “Our toughness is the best thing about this team.”
UCLA scored the first nine points of the second half on two baskets by Josh Shipp, one by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and a 3-pointer by Afflalo for a 31-23 lead.
Collison’s jumper gave UCLA a 45-35 lead.
Washington State scored six straight, with Robbie Cowgill’s short jumper cutting the UCLA lead to 47-43 with 3:25 left. But Mbah a Moute, who finished with 10 points, replied immediately with a basket for the Bruins.
Aron Baynes’ layup cut UCLA’s lead to 49-45 with 2:35 left. But Shipp iced the game with four points from the foul line.
Shipp finished with 12 points for the Bruins, who shot 51 percent in the game and held Washington State to 37 percent.
The Bruins have won five straight since a loss at West Virginia.
In the first, UCLA made its first five shots to take an 11-4 lead. Cowgill’s slam for WSU tied the game at 16 with 5:56 left.
Washington State, which leads the conference with only nine turnovers per game, committed 10 turnovers in the first half and 14 in the game.
The Bruins lead the series 91-13, winning 12 in a row in Pullman.
Before the game, WSU presented retired basketball coach Dick Bennett with an honorary alumnus award for the three years he spent rebuilding the problem before turning it over to his son Tony this year.
The crowd of 11,618 tied the largest of the season at WSU, where this year’s team has revitalized what had been the most apathetic venue in the league.