They showed the potential of a team that will have the chance to sit on an NCAA bubble at some point in the not-so-distant future. For now, Noah Williams and Washington State will have to settle with bursting the bubbles of their opposition.
Two days after he broke out for 32 points in a win over California, Williams had his sights on something bigger — both for himself and WSU's basketball program — because his career-high expired after just 48 hours and the sophomore posted a new personal-best, going for 40 points while playing a program-record 54 minutes and hitting a game-tying 3 at the end of the regulation to help the Cougars outlast NCAA tournament hopeful Stanford 85-76 in triple-overtime.
The victory snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Cardinal, who'd won every matchup since 2016, and secured WSU's first winning season since 2010-11. With road games at Arizona and Arizona State on tap, the Cougars (14-10, 7-10) can't do any worse than 14-12 in the regular season and would still finish above .500 with a first-round loss in the Pac-12 Tournament.
"I said that when I committed, in my commitment video I told them I wanted to come in here and change the culture," Williams said. "That's what we did. I believe in coach (Kyle) Smith, coach Smith believes in us as a team. Like I said earlier in the season, we're young and we're learning and we're a great team. Everybody on our team wants to win ... I feel like if you have that will to win, you're going to have a good team.
"It's amazing to have a winning season. It's a blessing."
Williams had the program's first 40-point game since Klay Thompson hit 43 points in 2011 and the sophomore's eight 3-pointers were the most by a WSU player since Robert Franks in 2019. His 72 points against the Bay Area schools make Williams a virtual lock for the Pac-12's Player of the Week honor and set a school record for the most point scored in a weekend series, beating Bennie Seltzer's 68 (1993).
Right after leaving the floor, Williams was greeted by the only thing that could cool him down: a wet, sugary shower of blue Gatorade, supplied by teammates as their top scorer entered the locker room. The Cougars soaked Smith as well, emptying an icy water cooler on the second-year coach, who inherited a program that had strung together seven straight losing seasons when he took the WSU job in 2019.
"Every coach, at least in our coaching circle, we go with the 1, 10 and this year 14 (wins) was the magic number," Smith said. "Then it's 20 and 25, then god forbid if you ever get to 30 it's time to retire. You've got to get your first (win), you've got to get to double figures, then you've got to get to the winning season. That was nice and every year it's like that."
Playing without leading scorer Isaac Bonton for the third consecutive game, and without backup guard Ryan Rapp for the second game in a row, the Cougars had to go deep into their reserve to pull out Saturday's win. Nobody dug deeper than Williams.
Trailing by as many as eight points in the second half, WSU closed the gap to three inside the final minute and Stanford's Michael O'Connell missed a free throw, giving the Cougars a chance to tie it on the final possession. Williams brought the ball across the timeline, took two dribbles, stepped left to create separation from defender Bryce Wills and hoisted a three-point shot, watching it fall through the net as he hit the ground.
It capped a 21-point half for Williams, who had 24 in the first half of Thursday's win over the Golden Bears.
"He was not wanting to lose," Smith said. "He's a really good competitor. He's probably got the best belief of anyone I've ever coached. He has great self-esteem, great confidence. There are a few more grey hairs watching a couple of shots, but he was willful and the last one to send it to overtime, I thought he was going to wait too long and they were going to be able to foul him. I said, just pull it, and then he made it and I'm not sure he didn't get fouled."
DJ Rodman's 3-pointer and Efe Abogidi's dunk were the only points the Cougars could muster in the first overtime and Williams guided his team through the second, hitting a trio of free throws after close friend, fellow Seattle native and ex-high school rival Daejon Davis fouled the WSU guard on a 3-point attempt, and subsequently fouled out of the game.
In the third overtime, Abogidi got the Cougars on the board with a layup on a Stanford turnover and Jaz Kunc made it a four-point game on a putback layup. With 2:34 left to play in the OT period, Abogidi delivered one of the season's most important shots, canning a 3-pointer from the top of the key to extend the lead to 83-76.
Prior to that, Abogidi, a reliable 3-point shooter during nonconference play, had missed 20 consecutive 3-point attempts dating back to a Jan. 23 game against Colorado.
"That was big, that was big for him and big for us too," Kunc said. "It came just in the right moment. He can shoot. ... For guys like that, it's just about confidence and just about letting them fly. If you miss a couple shots, you just can't stop. Especially a guy like him. He's open a lot because people have to double-team Noah, double-team Isaac."
Abogidi finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, Andrej Jakimovski had 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Kunc finished with 11 points to go with seven rebounds.
The Cougars held Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Oscar da Silva to 11 points after the Stanford forward scored 27 points in the last matchup. Da Silva fouled out with 37 seconds left in the second OT.
Williams reached the 40-point mark with a short floater to make it 85-76 and heaved up a 3-pointer with :26 on the clock, hoping to match the 43 points scored by his father, Guy, in a 1983 game against Idaho State.
"It's a blessing. I thank god every day for my god gifts and talent," he said. "It's for sure a blessing, but that's not the last you're going to see from Noah Williams."