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No. 13 Gonzaga too much for in-state rival Cougars

Gonzaga and WSU met for the 150th time and the Inland Northwest rivals put on another entertaining game.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga's player of the year candidate played maybe the best quarter of the season, but a rivalry game doesn't last just ten minutes.

Przemek Karnowski was held out of the game tonight with back trouble. No problem, the Zags boast the best front court in the nation so they just slide Domantas Sabonis into the starting five. Then they watch as Kyle Wiltjer scores 20 points in the first ten minutes of play.

Ernie Kent's Cougars came into this one with a 4-0 record, but they hadn't really played anybody. Their best win came at home against Northern Arizona. A Northern Arizona team that Gonzaga blew out 91-52.

The lack of experience showed early as WSU took a four point lead early but then quickly fell behind by double figures.

When Wiltjer scored his 20th point exactly at the ten minute mark of the first half the lead was 13. Second late Silas Melson picked Josh Hawkinson's pocket and ran out for a fast break dunk extending the lead to a game high 15 points. That total would be matched on two more occasions but never extended upon. Rivalry games aren't often blowouts, even when they should be.

Part of the reason why WSU managed to hang around was that after Wiltjer (22 points) scored his 20th point he must've started walking back to Spokane because he was all but absent for the rest of the game.

Birthday boy Que Johnson led the Cougars with 18 points while Ike Iroegbu pitched in 17.

The Cougars under coach Kent want to play a fast, frenetic —he uses both words in a promotional commercial airing in the Spokane area— style. That didn't really translate to extra possessions or a high score tonight, but his players sure do run. Their speed allowed them to rack up 14 steals tonight despite the development of Gonzaga's backcourt.

Down the stretch in both halves the Zags got careless with the ball and went cold from the field, which is not a good combination. In both instances the Cougars cut what had been double-digit leads down two just two possessions.

While the turnovers were racking up it was surprisingly not the young guards who committed them. Silas Melson and Josh Perkins combined for 26 points and just three turnovers. Wiltjer led the team with six.

Despite their worst performance of the season in terms of efficiency, Gonzaga was held to just 0.958 points per possession tonight, well below their previous low of 1.000 in their lone loss of the year, the Zags do escape the always hostile Beasley Coliseum. That should give them something to think about on the otherwise pleasant 77 mile trip home.