PULLMAN — With a metaphorical lid on the basket preventing almost any shot from a distance of more than 10 feet from going in, the Washington State men's basketball team kept it close Sunday in a 78-61 win over Pepperdine.
The Cougars outscored the Waves in the paint 42-20, but they made just five of their season-low 18 3-point attempts.
One of the catalysts of WSU's increased interior scoring was guard Royce Woolridge, who attacked throughout the game and had a season-high 20 points. He shot 7 of 10 from the field, and two of the misses were on 3-pointers.
"I felt that I had to be more aggressive, " Woolridge said. "Even if it's not just scoring, to get to the paint so I can either find people or make a play. I feel that I've been a bit too passive, so today I tried to be more aggressive."
In front of a quiet announced crowd of 2,243, the Cougars raced out to a 10-0 lead in the opening 3 minutes.
WSU (5-4), which outshot Pepperdine from the field, 53.6 percent to 38.5 percent, took a 41-26 halftime lead and went on to win comfortably.
"Sometimes it's very difficult to come out on your home court and have a lot of energy when there's just not a lot of buzz in the building, " WSU coach Ken Bone said. "But to our kids' credit, they worked really hard, they worked hard defensively, they executed offensively and I think it just set the tone for the game."
With the Cougars consistently driving, Pepperdine (6-5) was forced to foul. WSU shot 30 free throws but made just 13. That could have proved fatal had the Waves not shot 14 of 29 from the line.
"We dodged a bullet, but we need to get in there and work on our free throws, " Woolridge said.
Newcomers Que Johnson (14 points) and Jordan Railey (10) also scored in double figures for the Cougars. Both sat out last season - Railey because of NCAA transfer rules and Johnson because of eligibility issues - but they appear to be getting more comfortable on the court.
"Que and I both sat out for practically two straight years ... I think both of us are just kind of getting into that groove as far as being comfortable with the other guys, " Railey said.
Former Curtis High School standout DaVonté Lacy scored nine points, well below his average of 21.4, but he led WSU with eight rebounds and four steals.
Jeremy Major led the Waves with 17 points.