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WSU clips UW in overtime, 90-87, thanks to Myles Rice and Isaac Jones' heroics

Feb. 3—SEATTLE — A few minutes after he made the shot of his life, a late three-pointer to help Washington State bury Washington in Saturday's 90-87 overtime thriller, Myles Rice paused for a moment. Tears welled in his eyes. The moment was washing over him.

For Rice, who supplied 18 points, it was one thing that the Cougars were about to close it out, about to walk out of Alaska Airlines Arena with a victory. It was another to know who was in the stands.

"Just having my mom there," Rice said. "Everybody knows that she was my rock through all my chemotherapy and everything leading up to this season. Just going out there and being able to put on a good performance for her, get a W for her — this is all I could ask for, honestly."

That would be Tamara Rice, the mother of the 21-year-old Myles, who is becoming so good — so poised — that the eyes of college basketball are moving away from the fact he beat Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Instead, they're going to the Cougars, who secured their third Quad 1 win of the season by overcoming several deficits in the final moments.

The first came when things seemed bleakest for WSU (16-6, 7-4 Pac-12). That was when, his team trailing by two inside 10 seconds, Rice forayed to the rim and found nobody. He traveled and turned it over.

That sent UW forward Moses Wood to the free throw line, where he made the first shot. He missed the second. The rebound came off to forward Isaac Jones, who shuffled it back to Rice as the Cougs marched up the court. Jones set a screen for Rice, who shoveled it right back to Jones for a flush, tying the game — and sending it overtime, thanks to WSU's stop on the other end.

"We just went there. We just know each other's strengths," said Rice of Jones, who posted 20 points and 7 rebounds. "When it's IJ and Myles going down in that two-man game, it's not too many people that can stop that. We went out there and did that today."

To secure this win, their fourth in five tries in this Apple Cup series, several Cougs provided critical performances. Wing Jaylen Wells, who canned a mid-range jumper for an 81-80 lead in the final seconds of regulation, registered 19 points. Senior Andrej Jakimovski, who scored 13 points on three triples, hit two go-ahead free throws in regulation. And there was Rice, who sunk the long ball for the final margin just inside 2 minutes in overtime.

In the final minutes of regulation, Wells knocked down that mid-range jumper to hand the Cougars an 81-80 lead with 34 seconds to play. On the other end, UW guard Sahvir Wheeler caught Rice looking away from the ball and burned him for a driving layup, good for an 82-81 lead.

That's also to make nothing of the way WSU secured this win on defense. In the final minute of the extra session, Wells misfired from the mid-range, giving Washignton a chance to tie the game with a 3. On the other end, Jakimovski tagged UW's Keion Brooks — who scored 35 points — well enough to coax Brooks into losing control of the ball. Trapped along the sideline, Brooks tried to throw it off Jakimovski and out of bounds, but Jakimovski caught the ball.

Moments prior, WSU still clinging to that three-point lead, UW guard Sahvir Wheeler dribbled around a screen and met Cougar forward Oscar Cluff, who backed up. Perhaps it came as a surprise to Wheeler, who coughed up the ball. It came off to Wells, who secured his team's fourth steal of the contest.

All together, it added up to quite the encouraging win for Washington State, which can count this as a Quadrant 1 victory — for now. The Huskies entered Saturday ranked No. 72 in the NCAA NET rankings, three slots inside the threshold for a Quad 1 road win for WSU. Washington will likely slip in Sunday's rankings, though, making this a Quad 2 win for the Cougs.

If that comes to fruition, Washington State's resume for the NCAA Tournament — which it hasn't reached in 16 years — will take a slight hit. But with road games against Oregon State and Oregon next weekend looming, WSU will take a resume that looks like this: No. 40 in the NET, 2-3 in Quad 1, 4-2 in Quad 2, 3-1 in Quad 3, 6-0 in Quad 4.

But like coach Kyle Smith has mentioned time and again: As exciting as it is, as much as he and his team can't get away from the noise, it's too early to worry about the postseason. For now, all the Cougs can do is win the games in front of them, and hope they turn into quality victories by season's end.

WSU, which moves into a tie for second place in the Pac-12, will do so for this win over UW. The Cougs will also take solace in this: They fared well in this close game, unlike in their setback to Cal two weeks ago.

In that WSU loss, which will likely vacillate between Quad 2 and Quad 3 as the Golden Bears move up and down the rankings the rest of the season, the Cougars blew a seven-point lead inside two minutes. They had several chances to put the game away and capitalized on none of them.

"We kinda folded a little bit," Rice said.

On Saturday in Seattle, the Cougs did nothing of the kind. They did miss a couple opportunities to ice the game — Rice traveled at the end of regulation, and up three in the final seconds of overtime, WSU wasted a possession that ended in a shot-clock violation — but this win suggests what the Cougs themselves believe: They're maturing in ways that allow them to win games like these.

"If you watch our first game and you watch our game now," Wells said, "you'll be like, wow, that's not the same team."

"I felt like we had a little more fortitude," Smith said.

Part of that involves the way this group has been through battles and learned from them. Part of it also has to do with the production of Wells.

In Wells, a 6-foot-8 wing who transferred from Division-II Sonoma State ahead of this season, WSU has a player who fixes a lot of problems. Wells is a 40% shooter from deep, which provides floor spacing. He can create off the dribble, operating as a safety net when Rice is blanketed or doesn't have it going. He's coming along as a defender — when Smith needs a stop, he goes to Kymany Houinsou at the 3 — but as he improves as a rebounder, he's giving himself more reasons to see the floor.

In crunch time Saturday, two of the best plays he made came off the dribble. There was his step-back mid-range jumper for a late lead in regulation. Then there was his step-through finish off the dribble, which trimmed WSU's deficit to one inside of two minutes to play in regulation.

Here's the clip.

Is that enough to lift the Cougs out of offensive dry spells, like some of the ones they suffered on Saturday night? Only time will tell. But it can only mean good things for the Cougs, who have only had good things to talk about recently.