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Junior Longrus shut down Wiltjer after first 10 minutes and gave Cougs chance down stretch against Zags

PULLMAN – Junior Longrus scored no points and pulled down just one rebound in 25 minutes of basketball action on Friel Court Thursday against No.13 Gonzaga, but facts are facts: he was largely responsible for turning a would-be blow out into a high-energy contest that super charged the 8,000-plus crimson fans with just more than five minutes left.

After Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer scored his 20th point 10 minutes into the first half, Longrus came off the bench to lead a double-teaming that didn't just slow Wiltjer but shut him down. The Bulldogs' All-American managed only four more field goal attempts the rest of the way -- and he missed them all. Wiltjer finished the game with 22 points, courtesy of a trip to the line in the waning moments of the 69-60 GU victory.

The loss dropped the Cougars to 4-1 while Gonzaga improved to 5-1.

Wiltjer put on a pro-style performance in the first half, said WSU coach Ernie Kent, noting that the Cougars needed to adjust because their scouting report didn't envision Wiltjer's uncanny accuracy from way downtown. He dubbed Longrus' work on Wiltjer "outstanding."

Longrus' defensive prowess went beyond containment. He also stole the ball from Wiltjer three times -- the last, coming with 5:30 left in the game, sent Cougar guard Ike Iroegbu to a driving layup that brought WSU to within 59-53 and brought the crowd to its vocal high point.

"We knew he was a great shooter,” Longrus said of Wiltjer. “He was just feeling it in the game. … So we kind of had to adjust to how hot he was … we should have made that adjustment sooner ...”

Iroegbu, who scored 17 points on 7 of 17 shooting from the field, said the Cougars let an opportunity slip away. “We felt like we were right there, we just didn’t execute as well as we should have. We’ll learn from it.”

To that end, Kent pointed out that the Cougars had 12 "point-blank missed layups."

"That should just never happen," Kent said. "If you make half of 'em obviously it's a different game."

Kent also noted that the Cougar bench played 72 minutes and produced just one basket. That bucket came from guard Ny Redding.

FOR ALL OF KENT'S POST-GAME COMMENTS, INCLUDING A PLEA TO KEEP THE 108-YEAR-OLD WSU-GONZAGA SERIES ALIVE, CLICK THIS VIDEO:

Besides Wiltjer's first 10 minutes lighting up the scoreboard, the two other big story lines were Josh Hawkinson for WSU and Przemek Karnowski for Gonzaga.

Hawkinson, the king of the double-double, was largely inconspicuous, finishing with four points on two free throws and one of five shooting from the field. Kent said the two fouls he picked up early knocked him out of his ryhthm. Meanwhile, the 7-foot Karnowski, who firebombed the Cougars a year ago, never left the bench due to back problems.

One Cougar who had no trouble finding the basket was fourth-year junior swingman Que Johnson. He scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed five rebounds. “Ike and Charles (Callison), they did a good job finding me on the curls, finding me when I flare,” Johnson said. “Josh (Hawkinson) and Junior (Longrus) did a good job setting picks for me."

Kent said Johnson "was really, really good" on the offensive end. "You're starting to see flashes of what he can really do .. he has the talent, it's all about the effort."

Johnson's 18 points were just three shy of his career-high, 21, which he's done twice. The 18 points also tied Johnson for the second-most ever by a Cougar on his birthday; Aron Baynes, now with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, scored 23 on his birthday during the Cougars' 2007-8 season.

NOTABLE:

* The Cougars only attempted 10 three-point shots, hitting two. Kent said the modest number of attempts was a combination of game plan and the Gonzaga defense. The game plan was to get the ball inside to Conor Clifford, who finished with nine points on three of seven shooting from he field.

* Iroegbu scored in double figures for the fourth-straight game with 17 points.

* Junior guard Charles Callison scored in double figures for the first time in his career with 10 points. He also had two of WSU's four assists.

* Fourth-year junior Valentine Izundu added four blocks to his season total, which gives him 19 on the year. He entered the game third in the nation in blocks per game.

* Washington State had a season-high 14 steals.

NEXT UPWashington State hosts Portland State on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Beasley Coliseum.


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