SEATTLE – Washington State ran past and shot over Washington’s shot blockers, simply avoiding the biggest advantage the Huskies had to beat their instate rivals, 80-77, and send nearly all of the 7,595 fans home unhappy.
With the win WSU (8-7, 2-1 Pac-12) is suddenly one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 and the Cougars have yet to play a conference game at home.
“If you would have told me that (at the start of the season) I would have said that’s going to be difficult for this team to do until they grow up,” coach Ernie Kent said. “Well, they’ve grown up and they’re playing some outstanding basketball.”
The Cougars played at the fastest pace they have all season, and Kent said afterwards that the team’s tempo was equal to that of any team he coached in his 13 years at Oregon.
He credited WSU’s speed to Ike Iroegbu, who has turned into a slasher and distributor under Kent.
Iroegbu continually drove at UW’s Robert Upshaw, one of the country’s best shot-blockers. Irogebu finished with 13 points and five assists, frequently collapsing the UW defense before passing to a teammate for an uncontested shot from the corner.
“He was the difference in the game because he got us running,” Kent said. “He set a ferocious pace to the game.”
The score was tied at halftime but WSU quickly built a moderate lead, keeping the Huskies at arm’s length until there were about 10 minutes left. That’s when UW point guard Nigel Williams-Goss made three consecutive baskets to get the Huskies back into the game.
UW (11-4, 0-3) became the aggressors from there and when Williams-Goss hit a pair of free throws to bring the score to 71-70 with two minutes left, the Huskies had momentum and the crowd at their backs.
All that energy went back to WSU when Iroegbu inbounded the ball under the Huskies’ basket to Josh Hawkinson, his third option on the play, with 46 seconds left. Hawkinson absorbed contact from UW’s Mike Anderson and made the shot as he was fouled.
Hawkinson hit the free throw (WSU made 7 of 7 in the final minute) to give WSU a two-possession lead.
“He’s been a great player this whole season and I knew when I passed to him he would hit the bucket,” Iroegbu said.
The Cougars made 7 of 14 3-point attempts in the first half thanks to hot shooting from Brett Boese and Que Johnson, who each went 3 for 3 from behind the arc in the first half. Boese, who played his high school ball at Shadle Park, scored all 11 of his points in the first half, the most the junior has scored in a Pac-12 game.
Johnson scored a season-high 15 points in 23 minutes.
Their contributions helped WSU overcome some early inconsistency from leading scorers DaVonte Lacy and Hawkinson, who combined to make just 3 of 12 shots in the first half.
Kent also praised the work Boese did defending UW’s Shawn Kemp Jr., who is two inches taller than Boese, 25 pounds heavier and one of the conference’s most athletic forwards. Kemp finished with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
“That was huge for us,” Hawkinson said. “I started out slow and Brett really picked up the slack.”
But Hawkinson and Lacy came through for the Cougars in the second half, when Lacy scored 20 of his 25 points, icing the game by making 6 of 6 free throws with the Huskies fouling in the closing moments.
Lacy and Hawkinson hail from Tacoma and Shoreline, respectively, and Saturday was the first time either of the Puget Sound-area players beat the Huskies in Seattle.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it means a little extra,” Lacy said.
The Cougars separated themselves with a 28-13 advantage in bench points, led by Boese and Johnson. … UW’s Upshaw entered the game blocking 17 percent of opponent’s two-point attempts when he was on the floor. He had only two blocks on Saturday, meaning he still needs one more to tie UW’s single-season record.