CJ Elleby didn’t choose an offer from Washington, his hometown school, because he felt like Washington wasn’t completely set on choosing him.
As for those Washington State Cougars way over to the east? They were all in on the Cleveland High product.
So when Elleby sees purple, he sees red — or, one might say, crimson.
WSU basketball’s star sophomore forward poured in a career-high 34 points, collected 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and had a hand just about everywhere for his Cougs, who pulled away late to topple hated Pac-12 rival Washington 79-67 on Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.
“U-Dub was always one of those schools, growing up, you wanted to go to, but we (including freshman Noah Williams) made our way to this side of the state,” Elleby said. “And I couldn’t be more happy.”
Elleby splashed a career-best six 3s, shot 9-of-13 from the field and 10-for-10 on free throws as WSU snapped a three-year Apple Cup drought and gave itself its 14th win — its most wins in eight years.
But he had some help, not only taking into account celebrated former WSU coach George Raveling (1972-83), who hyped up Wazzu and its crowd of 4,866 from the sideline, and had his name lifted to the rafters at the half.
Williams, from O’Dea High, contributed 10 points and six boards, and drew eight fouls. His sisters attended UW, and he’d also been recruited a bit by the Huskies.
“I see nothing but red,” he said of playing the Seattle school. “I definitely have a lot to talk about in the family group chat.”
Point guard Isaac Bonton scored 12 points, settling himself in the second half after committing seven turnovers and sending up some errant shots; Jervae Robinson tacked on 10, and forward Jeff Pollard tallied eight points, 10 rebounds, seven drawn fouls and outworked five-star UW freshman Isaiah Stewart in the paint.
“That was a huge emphasis this week in practice, was rebounding, ’cause as good as their zone is, one of the weak points is boxing out and trying to get defensive rebounds,” Pollard said. “We knew we could get in there and get extra possessions.”
Smaller-sized WSU (14-10, 5-6) outrebounded the lengthy Huskies (12-12, 2-9) by 11 and made them toil for ideal looks.
Offensively, the Cougars added a few new plays, designed specifically to spread out UW’s tricky 2-3 zone, creating “soft spots” near the free-throw line and openings outside, Elleby noted. WSU shot only 38 percent, but got more extra attempts than the Huskies, many leading to freebies (24-for-28 at the stripe).
“I think that was kinda the difference,” Elleby said. “We needed to get those shots in the middle to break them down so they would suck in, and it’d open up everything else.”
The Cougars led for all but five minutes. Their largest deficit was one point. Compensating for some suspect offense, they stymied UW’s attack down the stretch, forcing takeaways in spades and gaining second chances with tipped-out balls.
“Jeff was a monster on that,” first-year WSU coach Kyle Smith said of Pollard. “It’s hard to rebound out of the zone with their length and strength.”
The Huskies stayed in striking distance until the last 2:30 of the game, when WSU closed it at the line and got some clutch driving finishes from Bonton and boards from Elleby, Pollard and Williams — as was the case most of the night. Both offenses had gone cold throughout the last several minutes.
The Cougs earned multiple double-figure advantages in the second half, and maintained an unsure lead via defense.
They rode the momentum generated by a Seattleite sequence at the midway point of the period.
Elleby canned his sixth 3 right in a Husky’s grill, and Williams followed with a steal at the perimeter, and a coast-to-coast two-handed slam to force a UW timeout and bring the attendees — and Raveling — to their feet. It was one of 17 turnovers Wazzu forced.
The west-side pair did so again eight minutes later to snap a dry spell. Williams penetrated and dumped a look-off pass inside to Elleby, who finished with a tough layin to all but end it — a fitting conclusion for the two.
“We were able to put a little pressure on them, especially Noah,” Smith said. “Noah and CJ made it hard for their forwards to catch.”
UW was led by guard Nahziah Carter’s 18 points. Stewart had 11 and fellow five-star freshman — and projected first-rounder in the NBA draft — Jaden McDaniels added 16. But Stewart and McDaniels combined for 10 giveaways and shot 39 percent.
“He’s one of the most physical guys in the league, in the country,” Pollard said of Stewart. “Just really stepping up and trying to focus on not letting him get comfortable and get his looks.”
WSU, spearheaded of course by Elleby, got off to a fine start to take a 10-point lead after seven minutes. The young Cougs then slipped into ice, and missed 11 straight shots during a lull that lasted 5:30. Because of their defense, however, UW didn’t muster much in the slow-burning spurt, coming out of it with a one-point edge.
It wasn’t nearly enough to dishearten Elleby and WSU. He put in a deep triple to close the first, then scored seven straight points midway through the second on penetration plays and foul shots.
The Huskies are probably kicking themselves.
“Whenever I took a shot, it did feel good,” said a smirking Elleby.
NOTE — After the game, Smith confirmed that WSU has received an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. The Cougs haven’t played in a postseason event in eight years.
Carter 7-10 3-6 18, Stewart 3-10 4-4 11, Wright 0-4 0-0 0, Bey 2-5 0-0 5, Tsohonis 5-13 1-3 13, McDaniels 6-13 2-4 16, Roberts 1-1 0-0 2, Hardy 1-2 0-0 2, Timmins 0-0 0-0 0, Battle 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 10-17 67.
WASHINGTON ST. (14-10)
Elleby 9-16 10-10 34, Pollard 2-5 4-6 8, Bonton 3-13 6-6 12, Robinson 3-5 2-2 10, Williams 4-11 2-4 10, Rodman 1-6 0-0 2, Markovetskyy 0-0 0-0 0, Rapp 0-1 0-0 0, Cannon 0-0 0-0 0, Henson 1-2 0-0 3, Miller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 24-28 79.
Halftime_Washington St. 38-33. 3-Point Goals_Washington 7-25 (McDaniels 2-5, Tsohonis 2-6, Bey 1-3, Carter 1-3, Stewart 1-3, Battle 0-1, Hardy 0-1, Wright 0-3), Washington St. 9-24 (Elleby 6-9, Robinson 2-4, Henson 1-1, Rapp 0-1, Williams 0-1, Rodman 0-3, Bonton 0-5). Fouled Out_Bey. Rebounds_Washington 28 (Stewart 7), Washington St. 39 (Elleby, Pollard 10). Assists_Washington 9 (McDaniels 3), Washington St. 15 (Bonton 4). Total Fouls_Washington 23, Washington St. 19. A_4,866 (11,671).
Colton Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.