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Grip on Sports: Though WSU finished another basketball season under .500, Ernie Kent is locked in for a few more years

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with guard Malachi Flynn (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State in Spokane, Wash., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Washington State won 75-62. (Young Kwak / AP)
Washington State head coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with guard Malachi Flynn (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State in Spokane, Wash., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Washington State won 75-62. (Young Kwak / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Another Washington State University basketball season is over. And like most before this one, it wasn’t all that successful. But whether or not that changes in the near future is hard to predict. Read on.

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• Over in Seattle, there is a debate going on concerning Washington coach Lorenzo Romar’s future. And there should be. The Huskies, with one of the most-touted players in the nation on their roster, finished 9-22, tying for the most losses in school history. And it’s been years since UW has had the success many followers feel is their right.

In Pullman, Ernie Kent just finished his third season. There is no debate whatsoever whether Kent, whose team was 13-18 this season, will have a fourth season. And probably a fifth, sixth or whatever.

Kent’s contract has a multi-million dollar buyout clause. Enough money to make a cash-strapped university’s athletic department think twice about making a change without cause. (And no, not winning enough games isn’t “cause.”)

So Kent, who is 62, will be around as long as he wants.

Now we understand winning in Pullman isn’t easy. The facilities are not up to snuff, the location makes it tough to recruit, the conference is loaded at the top.

Kent has won before, though it took him six years to get over 20 wins in a season at Saint Mary’s and his last three teams at Oregon were 11 games under .500.

Still, his lifetime collegiate record includes 359 wins, which is nothing to sneeze at.

I’ve been pretty clear in this space in my feelings Kent is a tough fit at WSU. It's not about his coaching. He is a good coach. Taking Oregon to the Elite Eight twice is proof of that.

But Washington State is a different animal. The Cougars strength always seems to show in different ways than other schools.

Mike Leach is a great fit on the football field because his schemes attract – and highlight – players that may not have fit in other places. Dick and Tony Bennett were successful – Dick laying the groundwork, Tony reaping the result – because their schemes utilized abilities other coaches may not have valued as highly.

Doing things a bit differently is the recipe for success at the school.

But there is more than one way to bake a cake. If the chef is talented. And the ingredients are solid.

The Cougars finished the season last night with four seniors playing key roles. The only underclassman that started, Malachi Flynn, struggled down the stretch, scoring three points – total – in the final three games.

Over in Seattle, there is a good chance Romar, who is 298-196 in his 15 UW seasons, will be back after having signed one of the best recruiting classes in America. But his fate is still to be determined.

Down in Pullman, where Kent is 35-58 in three seasons, the head coach will definitely return, though the Cougars don’t have one of the nation’s best incoming classes. Or a lot of returning starters. And he will be there as long as he wants.

•••

Gonzaga: Nigel Williams-Goss was named a Sports Illustrated first-team All-American yesterday.  … Jim Meehan looks back at the WCC finals and what’s ahead for the Bulldogs. … John Stockton will represent GU in the college basketball hall of fame.

WSU: The Cougars led by as many as 19 in the first half, a half that Kent labeled as “probably the best basketball” they’ve played in a pressure-packed situation. But they surrendered the lead and more after halftime, losing 73-63 to Colorado. Jacob Thorpe put together this game story. … The rest of the Pac-12 tournament rolled on in Las Vegas, with Oregon State’s awful season coming to an end against a limping California team, USC struggling but getting past a Fultz-less Washington and Arizona State defeating Stanford in overtime. … Romar’s future is still to be determined, though he sounds resigned to whatever the decision will be. … Oregon will be in the NCAA tournament. But the Ducks would like a No. 1 seed. … So would Arizona and UCLA for that matter. The Wildcats will face Colorado and the Bruins face USC. Utah matches up with California and Oregon has Arizona State. … In football, the Times’ Stefanie Loh caught up with three Cougars hoping to be in the NFL next season. … Colorado is in spring drills.

EWU: The Eagle men start their Big Sky tournament run tonight against Sacramento State. Jim Allen has an advance of the game in Reno. … Jim Hayford didn’t win the conference’s coach of the year award. It went to North Dakota’s Brian Jones. Jim also has a story about that. … Finally, Jim also covered the women’s win over rival Idaho to move into the conference tournament semifinals. … In other men’s games today, Southern Utah will try to recover from a grueling first-round win when it faces Weber State. … Jones and North Dakota know the postseason can be unpredictable.

Idaho: The Vandals enter today’s game with Montana as the Big Sky’s hottest team. Josh Wright has an advance of the contest. … Former Idaho quarterback Jake Luton has reached his goal of being in the Pac-12.

CCS and NIC: The Northwest Athletic Conference basketball tournaments begin today and NIC and CCS will have teams there. Dave Nichols previews the tournaments.

Shadow: Spokane has picked a new coach for its new adventure this season.

Chiefs: The quest for the postseason ended last night with another home loss and a Portland victory. Josh Horton has the story of the Chiefs’ 4-0 loss to Everett.

Preps: Some news surfaced this past week about a New Jersey high school that was using international players in violation of a state rule. A couple of the players in question had ties to North Idaho's Genesis Prep. That led to this Thomas Clouse story on the school's basketball success. The Jaguars defeated Dietrich in the state title game Saturday, 68-62. Their leading scorer that night was Jonny Hillman, with 29 points. He had lived his entire life in Post Falls.

Mariners: The biggest decision in camp probably has to do with the utility guy. … The game yesterday wasn’t good, as Cleveland won 14-6.Leonys Martin is revamping his swing. … Safeco Field is almost two decades old. … The WBC isn't all that important for U.S. players.

Seahawks: Free agent signings begin today and we have some clues what the Hawks are thinking. They will be in the offensive line market and are looking to talk with running backs as well.

Sounders: Is this a good thing or a bad thing for Osvaldo Alonzo?

•••       

• We have a couple of different, yet interesting, stories to pass along here. One is from the new sports editor, Ralph Walter. The other is about dogs. Until later …


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