SEATTLE — A January win doesn't make or break a season. It also doesn't guarantee a successful final two months of basketball.
More importantly for a Washington State team that has been stuck in the bottom half of the conference for the better part of the last decade, though, a win can be a sign of growth.
That is exactly what Cougars coach Ernie Kent is taking away from an 80-77 win at rival Washington on Saturday.
Washington State (8-7, 2-1 Pac-12) won back-to-back road games for the first time since 2009 and did it with the return of a faster tempo in which Kent wants to see his team operate.
"This was a team (Washington State) that I was told couldn't defend, the numbers told you that the last couple years," Kent said. "Couldn't shoot it, the numbers told you that the last couple years. Couldn't shoot free throws, the numbers told you that the last couple years.
"We took 'em, we put our arms around them, we let them empty their backpack of all that negative stuff. I'm just happy for them that they're coming of age right now."
DaVonte Lacy — a product of Curtis High School in nearby Tacoma — hit six straight free throws down the stretch to hold off the Huskies (11-4, 0-3).
"I knew I was going to take them because I told myself, 'If we're going to win or lose, it's going to be on my shoulders,'" Lacy said. "I am a senior and I am back home, so it had to be on my shoulders. I just stepped up and just did what I do best."
Lacy led the Cougars with 25 points, while Que Johnson added 15, Ike Iroegbu had 13 and Brett Boese 11 for Washington State. Josh Hawkinson grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with eight points, but saw his streak of six straight double-doubles come to an end.
Washington State refused to fold after Washington ripped off a 7-0 run, capped by Andrew Andrews' three-point play, to give Washington a 68-67 lead. The Cougars responded with a 7-2 run, one capped emphatically with a three-point play of their own, as Hawkinson slipped a screen and found a lane to the hoop.
"We knew they were switching a bunch, so I set the screen and they were going off to the 3-point line," said Hawkinson of his play, which gave Washington State a 74-70 lead with 46.0 seconds left.
Nigel Williams Goss hit two baskets and Mike Anderson buried a 3-pointer down the stretch, but Lacy answered each one with a pair of free throws.
Anderson's off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer was well off the target.
"I don't have a whole lot to say, because right now it's not about looking at any individual — what about this guy, what about that guy — it's all on me," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "As the head coach, I have to make sure that we get this turned around."
Williams-Goss scored a season-high 30 points for Washington. Andrews and Shawn Kemp Jr. had 12 apiece, and Anderson and Robert Upshaw added 10 each.
Washington State took control of the game midway through the second half after a 10-2 run for a 54-47 lead. Lacy scored five during the run.
In the first half, Andrews and Williams-Goss put the Huskies out front 9-2 early, but the Cougars slowly reeled them in before taking their first lead of the game with 1:17 left before the half on a jumper from Iroegbu.
Kent was more pleased with the way Iroegbu handled the offense than any shot he hit.
"He was the difference in the game because he got us running," Kent said. "He set a ferocious pace to the game. I call him a poor, poor man's Russell Westbrook. I told him, 'Go be Russell Westbrook.'
Washington State: The Cougars stayed at the same hotel as the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night. The Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers in an NFL playoff matchup Saturday evening.
Washington: The Huskies entered Saturday's contest shooting 26.3 percent from beyond the arc during their three-game skid, worse than their 31.3 percent season average. On Saturday, Washington hit just 4-of-19 attempts (21.1 percent).
Washington State has won two straight after its nonconference schedule left them 6-6. The Huskies have lost four consecutive after an 11-0 start had them ranked as high as No. 13.
In a game that was fairly even statistically, the Cougars separated themselves with a 28-13 advantage in bench points. Que Johnson led the Washington State reserves with 15 points, while Brett Boese scored 11.
Washington State: The Cougars return home to host Oregon on Thursday.
Washington: The Huskies continue their three-game homestand on Thursday against Oregon State.