TUCSON, Ariz. — The roars from Washington State‘s locker room echoed through a hallway underneath the stands at McKale Center.
An understandable celebration after the Cougars had just sent Arizona‘s fans to the exits early with their first road win over a top-5 opponent in 122 years of basketball.
Playing confidently in one of college basketball’s toughest road arenas, Washington State ended No. 5 Arizona’s 28-game home winning streak with a 74-61 victory on Saturday.
“You’re no different than the players — you’ve got to dream it to come true,” said Washington State coach Kyle Smith after his first win in three tries at McKale Center. “You start thinking about quieting the crowd and in your mind you go possession by possession. I did look up and see people filing out with 1:12 left and I was like, focus, focus, a lot of things can happen. And we were able to hang on.”
The Cougars (7-10, 2-4 Pac-12) shut down Arizona’s once-potent offense, creating a rare, subdued atmosphere inside McKale Center.
Washington State built an 18-point lead midway through the second half, withstood Arizona’s late run and played physical defense all afternoon to end what had been the nation’s third-longest active winning streak.
“Our guys just came together, had a tremendous effort, played really hard and played right to the final buzzer,” Smith said after Washington State’s first win over a top-5 team since 1983.
The Wildcats (14-2, 3-2) struggled offensively for the third straight game, shooting 32% and 4 for 25 from the 3-point arc. Arizona had its fewest halftime points (27) in two seasons under coach Tommy Lloyd and ran out of gas after a late 12-2 run cut the Cougars’ lead to five.
Azuolas Tubelis had 29 points and 14 rebounds for Arizona.
“Today had a chance to be a special day at McKale and it was for Washington State,” Lloyd said.
The Wildcats weren’t much better defensively, allowing Washington State to shoot 7 of 15 from 3 in the first half. TJ Bamba‘s 3 at the halftime buzzer put the Cougars up 37-27.
“It’s not confidence — we had a bad day and missed shots,” Tubelis said.
Washington pushed the lead to 55-37 midway through the second half, hitting shots every time Arizona tried to make a run. The Wildcats finally got the crowd to its feet with a late 12-2 run to pull within 61-56, but it turned out to be their last gasp.
Bamba scored a contested layup over 7-foot-1 Oumar Ballo and then a short jumper, helping Washington State push the lead back to double digits — and Wildcats’ fans to the exits.
“They were able to put together a game plan that worked early for them and they’ve got some conviction,” Lloyd said. “We got in an early hole and deserve the result that we got.”
Washington State arrived in the desert as the Pac-12’s most prolific 3-point shooting team. The Cougars were again good from the arc and played super defensively.
Arizona needs to find a way to get its offense revved up again. Once scoring more than 90 points per game, the Wildcats have failed to eclipse 70 in three straight games since the nonconference schedule ended. A drop in the AP Top 25 is coming on Monday.
Kerr Kriisa is the key to setting up Arizona’s offense, so Smith decided to try disrupting him by having the rangy Bamba guard Arizona’s point guard.
It worked out well for the Cougars. Kriisa shot 3 for 13 — 2 for 11 from 3 — and was limited to three assists.
“You don’t usually have that kind of guy [guarding] and as a point guard, you’re like, ‘whoa,'” Smith said. “I think if anything, the physicality maybe had them rekeying because he kind of makes him go in transition and a half court.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.