PULLMAN – Admittedly, CJ Elleby grew up a Washington fan and dreamed about leading his hometown Huskies to basketball glory much like his childhood idol Brandon Roy.
But when it came time to pick a college back in September 2017, the former Cleveland High star chose Washington State over UW and California, where his father Bill played.
These days, whenever Elleby and Noah Williams, another Seattle transplant who stars for WSU, goes up against an opponent in purple, all they see is crimson red.
“UW was always one of those schools growing up that we wanted to go to,” Elleby said after scoring a career-high 34 points to lead Washington State to a 79-67 victory Sunday over its cross-state rival. “But we made our way to this side of the state and I couldn’t be more happy to be here.”
Williams added: “I see nothing but red. Both of my sisters went there, so I definitely have a lot to talk about tonight in the family group chat.”
On a day when the Cougars honored their former coach George Raveling and retired a banner bearing his name, Elleby put on a show that had the 83-year-old WSU legend raising his fists and leading a rowdy crowd of 4,866 at Beasley Coliseum just like the old days.
“It’s a blessing to have him here,” Williams said of Raveling. “He coached my dad way back in the day. Just having a mentor like that in our building is amazing.
“It’s way bigger than basketball. You don’t get a lot of chances to meet somebody who stood next to Martin Luther King. … Just having him here in the building just feels amazing. It’s a blessing.”
The Cougars drew inspiration from their former coach, who visited Saturday’s practice and shared stories when he became the first African-American men’s basketball coach in the conference in 1972.
“One of the last things he said at practice was let’s go get that win tomorrow,” senior forward Jeff Pollard said. “He was into it. He had the same kind of energy and desire that we saw at Beasley tonight.”
And Elleby added: “Just for him to be here in the building and for him to have lived such a great life and have an impact on others it’s just special for me because I get to be a part of it. It’s so much bigger than anyone of us. I’m really just glad that we got the win for him.”
Elleby made sure of that.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore connected on 9 of 16 field goals, including 6 of 9 three-pointers. He also had 10 rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 37 minutes.
“We wanted to stop him obviously,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “He takes the most shots in the league. He takes the most threes on their team. The game plan was to stop him.
“I told the guys, until we execute the game plan this is going to be the result. And that’s something we can control. More awareness, more practice, more reps. The bottom line: That was the key, he had his best game.”
Elleby has never been better and he saved his best for a critical stretch midway through the second half.
Washington State led 46-45 before blowing the game open with a decisive 14-5 spurt in which Elleby scored 10 points.
Williams, the former O’Dea High star who scored 10 points, capped the scoring with a fast-break dunk that gave the Cougars a 60-50 lead with 9:37 remaining.
“I knew he was capable of it,” said UW freshman Jaden McDaniels, who grew up playing with Elleby. “We were trying to hold him to way less than he had. But great players do good things and that’s what he did. He’s a good hooper and that’s what he did tonight. He hooped.”
Washington made one last comeback attempt and Nahziah Carter, who finished with a team-high 18 points, sank a layup to cut WSU’s lead to 69-65 with 2:07 left.
However, Elleby made sure the Cougars didn’t relent and scored four of the next six points for WSU to push its lead back to 10.
“We needed it to stretch out the lead,” Elleby said, describing a pass from Williams that led to his basket and WSU’s final field goal at the 1:43 minute mark. “And we made some free throws down the end and got some stops to close it out.”
The Cougars (14-10, 5-6) snapped a four-game losing streak against their in-state rival and handed the Huskies (12-12, 2-9 Pac-12) their sixth straight loss.
After starting 10-2, Washington is 2-10 in the past 12 games.
“We know we’re good enough,” said McDaniels, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds off the bench. “We don’t be walking around with our head down. We know it’s still wide open and we have a chance. We’ve just got to produce and do what coach wants us to do.”
Freshman point guard Marcus Tsohonis tallied 13 points in his second straight start while WSU held freshman star Isaiah Stewart to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“Last home game against UW and you’ve got to go out with a bang,” said Pollard, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. “I knew he (Stewart) was going to be physical. You watch him on tape and he’s one of the most physical guys in the league and in the country. Just really stepping up and trying to make sure not letting him get comfortable and getting his looks.”
Behind Pollard’s work on the glass, the Cougars enjoyed a 44-33 rebounding edge that proved to be pivotal. Washington State also connected on 24 of 28 free throws while UW was 10 of 17.
Isaac Bonton finished with 12 points and Jervae Robinson had 10 for WSU.
“We got a big win tonight, but we’re on to the next game,” Elleby said. “We’ve been having some trouble taking the show on the road and getting road wins. So right now that’s our next challenge, to get a road win.”