WSU schools No. 25 UCLA with master class in movement studies

THE COUGS’ BALL MOVEMENT in the first half vs. UCLA was the best it has been all season. And it continued in the second half, as Washington State knocked off No. 25 UCLA 85-78 to grab their first conference win of the season.

The Cougs turned the ball over only four times in the first half, with UCLA failing to grab a single steal against Washington State over the first 20 minutes.  For the game, Washington State tallied 20 assists with 31 makes, with five Cougars scoring in double figures.

Washington State shot a sterling 45 percent from 3-point land and 55 percent from the floor. The catalyst behind all of it was WSU's crisp ball movement.

Time and again, WSU found the open man – and he knocked it down.  Case in point, Que Johnson had the lowest shooting percentage of any Cougar who played more than five minutes – and Johnson was still  5 of 11 (45 percent) from the floor. With several good looks on the night, Johnson scored 14.

Indeed, Cougar fans got a look at what this 2015-16 team can do when they focus on making good passes.

Josh Hawkinson was his usual sublime self on the offensive end with 20 points and 10 rebounds. His ninth straight double-double tied the school record (Steve Puidokas, 1975-76). 

But Hawkinson arguably played his best defensive game of the season, too.

Hawkinson blocked four shots -- and altered the trajectory of many more, as WSU held UCLA to just 36.7 percent shooting in the second half.

But when Ike Iroegbu picked up his second early foul without having scored a point, an upset win over UCLA looked anything but certain. Iroegbu is the Cougs’ second-leading scorer and WSU has struggled to find someone besides he or Hawkinson to fill up the net.

Yet with WSU leading 21-20 and Iroegbu headed to the bench, WSU outscored UCLA 19-16 the rest of the way before halftime.  For the game, WSU’s bench outscored UCLA’s 31-7.

Charles Callison picked up the scoring slack early, while Renard Suggs did most of his damage in the second half.  Callison finished with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting, Suggs poured in 14 and went 4 of 8 from the floor.  

Iroegbu took only one shot the entire game and missed it. But he logged seven assists.

“Not only that, he was outstanding defensively," Ernie Kent said after the game on the postgame radio interview. "This is the team we found over in Hawaii -- tough, smart."

WSU’s Junior Longrus started in place of Valentine Izundu and while Longrus took only three shots and scored four points, he was a difference maker, stymieing a would-be UCLA run here, blocking a shot and throwing down a dunk there.  Longrus spoted three steals on the night.

Kent said the game plan involved Longrus and center Conor Clifford to hedge ball screen and trap the post.

“(Longrus) did exactly what we needed him to do… and Conor was good offensively but he was really good defensively as well… Conor, I’m proud of him,” said Kent.

Clifford was a perfect 5 of 5 from the field for 10 points while snatching three boards.  Something not quantified by the box score -- Clifford moved as well as he has all season and on both ends of the court.

With the lead, Washington State played a little too loose towards the end, there were a couple of shots taken early in the shot clock, the Cougs allowed some Bruin offensive rebounds and UCLA got the lead down to six points at one stage. But WSU wasn't going to be denied on this night. WSU's winter break won't end until next week, but class was still in session at Beasley on Sunday night. 

WSU next plays on Saturday, Jan. 9, hosting UW at noon (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

• WSU snapped a streak of nine straight losses against ranked opponents.
• WSU has won its last three games at home against UCLA.
• The Cougars are now 9-0 when leading at half this season.
• Suggs' 14 points was a career high.  Callison tied his career high with 12 points and also dished four assists.

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