Strong defense, control on the glass, and smart play on the offensive end helped Washington State to its third win conference win of the season Saturday.

The Cougars (10-7, 3-3 Pac-12) pulled away from Cal (9-9, 2-5 Pac-12) in the game’s closing minutes to walk away with a 65-57 win. Andrej Jakimovski put up 16 points and seven boards on a sharp 4-for-7 clip from beyond the 3-point line, Michael Flowers added 13 points, five boards, and three assists; and the Cougar defense limited the Golden Bears to just 38% from the field over the final 20 minutes.

“Really gratifying win for our team,” Wazzu coach Kyle Smith said after the game. “(We’ve) played so many close games and came up short. I think the score ended up at eight, but that was a close game.

“We got up seven with five minutes to go, tried to rally the troops, and next thing I know it was two. But our guys battled back and made some really good plays down the stretch. Hopefully this will give us some confidence moving forward.”

If eight is close, this was the 10th close one the Cougars have played so far to start the season. They’ve lost games by five, two, three, three, six, five, and five points, most recently to Stanford when the Cardinal went on an unbelievable second-half run as the Cougars went frigid cold from the field.

To get that monkey off the back, to pull one of these out and prove to themselves they could do it was big.

“There were just a lot of plays,” Smith said. “Individual guys really played within themselves and we played as a team.”

The margin never got wider than seven in the first half, though Cal ended on an 8-2 run to take a two-point lead into the break. Washington State couldn’t buy a bucket from deep (1-for-10), but it did well to control the painted area. The Cougars held a 20-14 advantage in paint points and a 19-16 advantage in the rebounding department.


But the Cougars hit three triples in the first five minutes of the second half and that seemed to energize the group. No second-half lid on the rim this time around. The turnovers were nearly nonexistent (only two in the final 20 minutes) and the Cougars did well to get to the rim. They took 18 free throws in the second half compared to just four Cal free throws.

Jordan Shepherd led the Golden Bears with a game-high 17 points on 12 shots. Andre Kelly put up a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double, but fouled out in 30 minutes.

The Cougars are at Oregon next, with tip-off set for 6:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, Jan. 20.

Cal has a bit of a break before back-to-back games against the top two teams in the league. It’ll host No. 6 Arizona on Sunday, Jan. 23, at noon PT and then travel to LA to face No. 3 UCLA on Friday, Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. PT.

You can see highlights from Saturday’s game below: