Freshman class has early impact at WSU

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PULLMAN — With a 6-5 record and losses to TCU and UTEP, the Cougars have not done much to pad their postseason resume during the nonconference portion of their schedule. But with a game against No. 1 Arizona in Tucson just a week away, help may be on the way.

The Cougars are getting tougher at the same time as their competition, thanks to three newcomers who are finding their strides. Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey, and freshmen Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson have each shown to be capable of contributing during the first portion of WSU’s season.

Counterintuitively, the youngest of the first-year players had the quickest impact. While Johnson is arguably the most-hyped player on the team – earning a four star rating from Scout.com, higher than any other Cougar – neither he nor Railey were playing organized basketball a season ago.

Railey had to sit out a season per NCAA transfer rules, while Johnson missed a year in order to shore up some academic issues. Johnson was not allowed to practice with the team, or under the supervision of the coaching staff.

So it was Iroegbu who scored 20 points against Gonzaga and has provided depth at point guard for a team that has a deficiency at the position.

But the rest of the trio is coming around, in spurts. Johnson had a career-high 21 points against UTEP, and hit 4 of 7 3-pointers, providing a threat from behind the arc other than DaVonte Lacy.

While Railey was scoreless in that game, he scored 13 points and added five rebounds in the win over Purdue, and also scored in double figures against Pepperdine. The big man has been giving the team over 20 minutes a game, and Bone has said that he doesn’t expect him to really hit his stride until the middle of conference play.

On paper, Eastern Washington’s game Sunday at No. 10 Connecticut appears to be a mismatch.

“We are playing up a level, but it’s a good opportunity and will show us where we need to get better,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said.

On the other hand, the Eagles own a 102-70 win earlier this year over Long Island-Brooklyn, which lost by only 1 point to Indiana, which in turn lost to UConn 59-58 on Nov. 22.

On the other, other hand, Connecticut is coming off an 82-70 win over Washington, which beat the Eagles 92-80 last month. UConn is the Eagles’ first ranked opponent since Hayford took over the Eastern program in 2011.

Idaho has played in Moscow just once since the middle of November – a stretch of nine out of 10 games away from Cowan Spectrum. But the Vandals are about to get much better acquainted with their home court.

Starting with its home game against Montana on Saturday, Idaho plays five of its next seven in Moscow. Saturday is UI’s last nonconference game before starting WAC play on Jan. 2 against Missouri- Kansas City.

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