PULLMAN — Washington broke a seven-game losing streak to cross-state rival Washington State with a 68-48 victory on Saturday, but coach Lorenzo Romar had his eye on a bigger prize.
“We won a road game tonight,” Romar said. “That’s huge.”
“To finish in the top half of the conference, you have to win some road games,” Romar said.
Prior to this, Washington (10-3, 1-0 Pacific 10) had won all its games at home and suffered all its losses on the road. This was their first road game in more than a month.
A solid defensive effort in the second half, in which they outscored the Cougars 38-20 and held them to 36 percent shooting, blew open a close game and gave the Huskies their first win over WSU since 2005, before any of the current players were on the team.
“A lot of weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” said Quincy Pondexter, who had 16 points and 7 rebounds for the Huskies.
He said the Huskies are maturing into a better team than the past two seasons.
“We were not smart enough to win games,” Pondexter said. “We’re smarter now and we understand what winning is all about.”
Freshman Isaiah Thomas led the Huskies with 19 points, while Justin Dentmon added 17, making all four of his 3-point attempts. Jon Brockman, who leads the team in scoring (16) and rebounding (10), was held to 10 points and 4 rebounds.
But the Huskies still won the rebound battle 36-20, including 13 offensive boards. They outshot the Cougars 48 percent to 41 percent in winning their eighth consecutive game.
Washington State (8-5, 0-1) got 12 points from Taylor Rochestie and 11 from Aron Baynes.
But after tying the score early in the second half, the Cougars got blown out. They have now lost four of their past six games.
“A lot of what WSU basketball is all about is getting motivated and pumped up on defense,” Rochestie said. “Our defense fires up our offense and breaks teams down.”
After WSU tied the game at 30 with the first basket of the second half, Thomas’ 3-pointer sparked a 9-0 Washington run for a 39-30 lead.
Dentmon’s 3-pointer gave Washington a 44-34 lead, as the Huskies made 5-of-7 field goals to open the second half.
Rochestie scored two baskets as the Cougars closed to 46-41, but Dentmon’s long 3-pointer rebuilt the UW lead.
Consecutive baskets by Pondexter gave Washington a 55-43 lead with less than 5 minutes left, and deflated the Cougars.
“We can’t have big lapses,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said. “When they add up it’s hard for us to claw back.”
Bennett suffered his first loss to the Huskies after five wins.
Washington State, the nation’s stingiest defense, was allowing only 49 points per game. But the Huskies made 6-of-11 3-pointers and their 68 points was the second highest total of the year against WSU, after Gonzaga scored 74.
The game opened at the deliberate pace the Cougars favor, and was tied just 6-6 with nearly 8 minutes gone.
A pair of 3-pointers by Dentmon and a short jumper by Brockman lifted the Huskies to a 24-19 lead with 3:05 left in the first half.
DeAngelo Casto and Aron Baynes each sank a pair of free throws for WSU in the closing 39 seconds to tie the score at 28. Pondexter was fouled on an inbounds play with less than 1 second left and made both free throws for a 30-28 Washington lead at halftime.