PULLMAN – The Valentine Izundu that Washington State basketball coach Ernie Kent has hinted at, a 6-foot-10 jumping bean who might lead the Pac-12 in blocked shots, who can dunk whenever he has the ball near the basket, and can alter many times more shots than he rejects, finally showed up in the Cougars’ 85-67 win over Idaho State.
The Houston transfer had foreshadowed his breakout performance in two preseason games and WSU’s season-opening win over Northern Arizona. A pull-down-the-rim dunk here, a shot swatted into the fifth row there, little glimpses foreshadowing a center whose game could remind viewers of Hakeem Olajuwon as much as his goggles do.
The 2,662 fans in attendance Friday night got the full show.
The best player for WSU (2-0) is and will almost certainly remain Josh Hawkinson, whose 19 points and 14 rebounds kept him on pace to break his own school record for double-doubles.
Lead guard Ike Iroegbu led the team in points (21) and assists (seven), and made 10 of 12 free-throw attempts.
But their impact on the game did not dwarf Izundu’s 10 points, seven rebounds and six blocks.
“They have to suck down on him and so when we penetrate, (the other team has) to be aware of (Izundu), so it creates a little more space for me,” Hawkinson said.
The bulk of Izundu’s influence came after halftime, when the Cougars overcame a lethargic first half on defense that saw them lead just 44-37 at the break and score just four fast-break points, due to ISU’s generous employment of a zone defense.
“What they forced us to do was to toughen up, to get better defensively, to block out tougher, to be more accountable to 3-point shooters,” Kent said. “They forced us to score against a zone. A team that played 95 percent of the time in zone, and we still scored 85 points, that’s a lot of points against a zone.”
WSU’s second-tallest player was able to speed up the Cougars, however. His seminal play was to block a shot with such force during the first play of the second half that it started a fast break when the ball landed near Ike Iroegbu at midcourt, who drove quickly to the basket and was fouled.
Izundu made all four of his shots – three dunks and a jump hook that followed an offensive rebound – and both of his free-throw attempts. His dunks energized his teammates and the crowd, his blocks made the paint a restricted area where the Bengals became significantly worse shooters once the threat of a rejection became apparent.
ISU (2-1) made 38.7 percent of its 2-point attempts in the first half and 30.6 percent in the second. Blame Izundu, who played 14 of his 23 minutes and had all of his blocks after halftime.
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