PULLMAN -- The college game is starting to slow down for Washington State freshman point guard Ike Iroegbu, and the result, he says, is greater intensity on the court. Not to mention greater confidence. He brings a pass-first mentality to the Cougs, but through the first two games of the year he’s shown no shyness about taking the ball to the hoop.
At 10.5 points per outing, he’s No. 2 on the Cougs in scoring behind DaVonte Lacy (24.5).
Based on what oddsmakers think of the Cougars’ chances tonight at No. 13-ranked Gonzaga (6 p.m. tip off, ROOT Sports), they’ll need every bit of scoring mojo they can get. The Zags are a 15-point favorite.
"I'm just really going hard in practice, just working on things in practice, before and after practice. Just getting extra shots up and I feel that because I'm working hard that makes me able to get in a rhythm when I'm in the game,” Iroegbu told CF.C before practice Monday.
“Coach (Bone), he wants me to be aggressive, get to the rim and that's what I've been trying to do. I just been trying to pick my spots wisely and don't take any bad shots but when I see an opportunity to score I try and make the best of it," he added.
Iroegbu backs up Royce Woolridge, but his playing time – 21 minutes vs. Lamar and 19 vs. Bakersfield – is sizeable because Woolridge can slide to the 2 guard.
With many rookies, the speed of the college game is an issue early on and Iroegbu said he is no exception, but is adjusting quickly.
"After the first game, I got the speed down,” he said. “We're only two games into our season so I feel like it's going to take a little bit more getting used to for me to be fully comfortable but I feel like the exhibition (against CWU) and the first game really helped a lot.
"I feel that because we practice so hard that I got used to it. I remember the first couple practices it really was an issue because it was so fast and I really couldn't keep up then as we go on I feel like I got better at it and it's coming easier for me.”
Cougs (2-0) vs. Zags (3-0)
The tip: 6 p.m. tonight, McCarthy Center
TV: ROOT Sports
The line: Gonzaga by 15
The series: Cougs lead 98-49
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In the Cougar offense, the point guard is expected to distribute the ball, but also has license to freelance when the situation presents itself. Through two, Iroegbu has put the ball in the bucket in a variety of ways, finishing around the rim, delivering some dunks, and hitting shots from long range.
His facilitator role isn’t going away, however. Iroegbu said he’s working on improving his court vision in order to get his teammates the ball in places where they can do something with it.
"The assists are going to come, I'm just trying to work the offense and get everyone their shots. Sometimes they're going to knock ‘em down, sometimes they're not, I understand that so I'm not really getting mad if they miss a shot because I know if I pass it to them again they're going to make it," he said.
“People know that if we're pushing the ball up the court, just get open and we're going to find them.”
ANOTHER YOUNG COUGAR WHO IS looking to expand his game this season is sophomore post Junior Longrus. Primarily viewed as a rebounder, screen setter and defender, he told CF.C this week that he’s ready to put some offense to work as well.
He said the three-on-three and four-on-four sessions he participated in before the season allowed him to test his offensive skills against veteran players. He said the work convinced him he could assert himself on the offensive end of the floor. And so did his dad.
Longrus said his dad knows more about basketball than anyone he’s ever met, so he values the times when pops calls after a game and encourages not to be bashful about looking for his shot on offense.
Their mindsets are totally different.
“My dad is a little more offensive minded than I am and definitely thinks it’s important not to be a liability in any capacity on the court. So I definitely think showing that I do have the ability to step out and hit that jumper or get to the rack, whatever I need to do, really helps us out,” Junior said.
He’s 4-for-9 from the field so far this season.
“As everybody knows, we have some of the best scorers in the Pac-12 on our team so it’s definitely a lot easier for me to have a big impact on defense and step into those roles on offense when they need me to knock down that short jumper or finish that dunk.”
Longrus has tallied three blocks in the first two games and when Bone decided to go with a smaller starting lineup against Lamar last Saturday, Longrus saw time on the floor as the primary rim protector. So far he’s been able to man the middle relatively effectively due to his hustle and attention to detail - but Longrus said he knows he’s going to face an entirely different animal in terms of defense tonight against Gonzaga, Sunday in Pullman against TCU, and Nov. 28 vs. Butler in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
“It’s all about preparation, listening to what coach is saying in the scouting report, just sticking to our defensive principles. As far as blocks I’m really just trying to change shots, alter shots, you gotta be smart about being aggressive on defense this year with the new rules regarding defense. It’s easy to have a presence on defense, that’s really just working hard, paying attention and being there mentally so I’m glad I can do that for the team in that capacity.”
“I feel it’ll be more of a challenge but I’m competitive so I look forward to that challenge. Guys are definitely going to get better; 6-11, 7-foot, 7-1, 7-2, that’s what we’re going to see in the (Pac-12) but I’m excited to see how I can push myself and see how much of an impact I can continue to have.”
The ROOTS Sports broadcast crew for tonight's game has a decidedly Bulldog bent to it. Dan Dickau and Richard Fox, former Gonzaga players, will be joining Greg Heister on the call.
The Cougar radio broadcast tonight will be without the man who has been calling WSU hoops for more than two decades. Bud Nameck will be hosting the Mike Leach Coaches Show, so Derek Deis of KXLY in Spokane will handle the Cougars' play-by-play duties.
In two career games against Gonzaga, DaVonté Lacy is averaging 16.5 points per game on 7-15 from beyond the 3-point arc. Last season, in a WSU loss at the buzzer, he scored 22 vs. the Zags after missing the previous four with a knee injury.
The Cougars’ last win over a ranked opponent on the road came at No. 20 UCLA, Feb. 21, 2009, and their last win over a top-15 team came Dec. 23, 2010 over No. 15 Baylor at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.