PULLMAN — Three games ago, Noah Williams scored eight points for the Washington State men’s basketball team before fouling out of a win over UCLA. Two games ago, the guard shot just 2 of 13 from the field, scoring four points in a loss to USC. Earlier this week, the sophomore let a former AAU teammate, Washington’s Marcus Tsohonis, blow by him for the game-winner in a two-point loss to WSU’s in-state rival.
With a gallery of images from those games rolling through his head all week, and the Cougars down to two scholarship guards, Williams responded with the performance of his career Thursday night, scoring 32 points with nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals in an 82-51 victory over Cal at Beasley Coliseum.
It was the largest margin of victory for WSU (13-10, 6-10 Pac-12) in 137 games against Cal and the program’s largest margin of victory against a conference opponent since a 33-point win over Stanford in 1993.
“I came in with a chip on my shoulder, for sure,” Williams said. “I was just here to play basketball; the game just flowed my way. Yeah, it was a tough loss to UW that actually really hurt. That actually hit home, so I just had to bounce back.”
In the three previous games, against UCLA, USC and the Huskies, Williams made just six shots and scored 24 points. But the Seattle native made a pair of free throws to reach the number on the back of his jersey — 24 — in the first half against the Golden Bears, besting his previous career high of 21 points.
Williams, who’d made four 3-pointers in his past five games, also busted out of a shooting slump, connecting on his first four tries from beyond the arc and finishing 4 of 6.
“I put a lot of work in the offseason,” Williams told the Pac-12 Networks in a postgame interview. “Countless hours in the gym working on my footwork, trying to keep my feet right on my shot, my base. That’s really what it is and just staying confident. Making sure I’m staying in confident while I’m shooting my shot, knowing I’m going to go in, if I miss it I’m going to keep on shooting it. The next one’s going to go in. Have to have that shooter’s mentality, a short-term memory loss when you miss.”
WSU beat Cal with relative ease in the first meeting between the teams this season, but the Golden Bears were without all-conference guard Matt Bradley in that matchup. Bradley played 23 minutes and scored 16 points in Thursday’s game despite not starting due to illness.
It was the Cougars who entered at a disadvantage in the rematch. Isaac Bonton, WSU’s leader in points and assists, missed his second consecutive game after spraining both ankles against USC, and backup guard Ryan Rapp was out because of a leg injury, leaving Williams and freshman TJ Bamba as the only scholarship guards available.
Without depth in the backcourt, WSU needed the most aggressive version of Williams. The former O’Dea High product wasn’t reluctant to offer it, pleading with coach Kyle Smith to leave him in the game at 73-42 when Williams was one rebound and three assists short of a triple-double.
“I sure did, I sure did,” Williams said, “but he wanted to rest me for the game on Saturday, and I’m not worried about it.”