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Spokane and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday ended his prolific career, retiring from football just before Washington started its rookie minicamp.
In other news…
— The NCAA men's basketball rules committee proposed a number of rule changes yesterday, which we covered here.
— Joe Pistorese threw a gem to lead the WSU baseball team past Arizona State.
— A pair of Wildcats faced off for the first time as pros at the NBA combine in Chicago.
— Arizona State signed a late addition to its 2015 recruiting class.
— Oregon's basketball team just secured a commitment to play from the top junior college recruit in the country.
— A Stanford safety may skip his senior season to pursue a professional baseball career.
— The Pac-12 Blog examines who from the conference could be a Heisman Candidate next season.
A season ago, Washington State had some established leaders at key positions. Now, those players are gone.
Except for the offensive line, the Cougars have very few positions that have players so entrenched that it's almost a guarantee they will start. Furthermore, many of the obvious candidates missed significant chunks of last season or are currently limited. So, the Cougars have plenty of spots up for grabs and Mike Leach is enjoying the competition.
That's the thrust of our story in today's paper. I also have my usual report from yesterday's practice, a little longer because it's the first practice I attended this spring what with our beefed up NCAA tournament coverage and all. Additionally, check out our post-practice videos of Mike Leach and Peyton Bender.
Today we have our weekly baseball notebook and the news that three players have transferred from the men's basketball program.
More links …
— Gonzaga rallied for a one-run victory over the Cougar baseball team in Spokane.
— Washington's lone remaining 7-footer is transferring according to an ESPN report.
— Looking back at Arizona's basketball season.
— A report from Arizona State's practice on Tuesday.
— California could be in line to land a five-star basketball recruit.
— Colorado is getting some sweet new digs.
— Bralon Addison is shaking off the rust this spring.
— Former quarterbacks are taking their shots at tight end for Oregon State.
— Stanford is getting healthy in time for its second spring session.
— UCLA's quarterbacks are vying to see who will replace Brett Hundley.
— USC's Pat Haden is boycotting the CFP selection committee in Indiana because of the state's ridiculous new law.
— Utah's Delon Wright was rightfully given All-America honors.
The first day of Washington State spring practice is in the books and Sean Kramer was there to see it.
First-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had a good first day, winning the team period with a goal line stand. That's the thrust of Sean's story in the paper today.
I wrote a little about the Cougars myself, checking into the potential reasons for Sebastian LaRue's dismissal.
Here in Houston we filled the paper with ink about today's matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA for a ticket to the Elite Eight. Jim Meehan has the advance, John Blanchette has the column, naturally, and I wrote a story about the good vibrations finally coming UCLA's way. Through the power of teamwork, Jim and I also put together this notebook.
— Arizona's trip to the Elite Eight is already assured after last night's win over Xavier.
— Looking back at another important UCLA trip to Houston in March.
— Duke may be the favorite but Utah has some definite advantages in the matchup.
Today marks the first of 15 spring football practices at Washington State.
The Cougars will practice today at 2:30 p.m., and got things started yesterday by releasing an updated roster and making coach Mike Leach available to the media. Here is the new roster and some highlights from Leach's teleconference.
— I wrote about why UCLA should still struggle to beat Gonzaga in a rematch despite improvement from its post players.
— The Huskies will be starting spring practice soon as well. Here is a look at the offense.
— Arizona will play Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time since the turn of the century.
— Here is the story of how Arizona lured Sean Miller from Xavier.
— Meanwhile, Arizona State is in the thick of its own search for a new basketball coach.
— California is looking for a new athletic director and has whittled its search down to two finalists.
— Colorado has set up a football series against Texas A&M.
— Six newcomers to watch in Oregon's spring practice.
— Stanford has added Vanderbilt and TCU to its future football schedules.
— UCLA is hoping an improved Tony Parker can play much better against Gonzaga this time around.
— The NCAA has released documents from the USC-McNair case.
— Utah's young players are learning firsthand how to make an NCAA tournament run.
Washington State will have its first practice of the spring at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow in Martin Stadium.
The practice is open to the public, but if you want a sneak peak at what the new WSU defense will look like under Alex Grinch, just watch the Philadelphia Eagles.
That's what the Cougars are doing.
Grinch was good enough to sit down with me and watch a little film and lay out his vision for his first spring in Pullman, which I lay out in this story for today's paper. For one, he wants a speedy defense, and the Cougars will ride the wave of schools spending most of the time in sub packages by primarily employing a nickel defense.
And now, I must make a confession. I won't be at practice on Thursday or Saturday because I'm helping out with our coverage of Gonzaga's NCAA tournament run. But our man Sean Kramer will make the trip over from Moscow to cover Thursday's helmets-only practice.
I also put together a list of 10 players to keep an eye on if you make it out to any of the practices this spring. If you can't make the trek, I'm sure they will all make frequent appearances in our practice reports.
Now for the links …
— The WSU baseball team's freshman got a hard lesson last week in what life is like in the rugged Pac-12.
— Jim Meehan has a story about the last time Gonzaga faced UCLA in the NCAA tournament and spoke with former Bulldog Adam Morrison, whose on-court anguish became a symbol for some of GU's struggles to make a deep tournament run.
— The biggest news in the Pac-12 yesterday was Arizona State firing basketball coach Herb Sendek.
— Somehow Dana Altman is already the fourth-longest tenured Pac-12 basketball coach.
— Ted Miller looks at the 10 biggest Pac-12 football upsets since 2000.
— A former UW safety is part of HBO's special on head injuries.
— T.J. McConnell is already training his replacement.
Maybe this wasn't such a down year for the Pac-12, after all.
The conference sent four teams to the NCAA tournament and all four won their opening games. Three of them will head to the Sweet 16 and the only team to lose, Oregon, gave No. 1 Wisconsin all it could handle yesterday.
Arizona has been as impressive as any team so far and coach Sean Miller is having success against a gauntlet of familiar foes. The Utes are playing well heading into a matchup of coach Ks. Many didn't think UCLA would make the tournament field but some bigtime post play has the Bruins back in the Sweet 16 for a tournament rematch against Gonzaga.
John Blanchette and I have been in Seattle, helping Jim Meehan cover the Zags, who are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. The Bulldogs looked pretty formidable on Sunday, dominating Iowa from start to finish. Here's Jim's game story, John's column and my sidebar. Jim and I also have some notes from the game.
It was a rough weekend for the WSU baseball team, which was swept by Oregon State. The Cougars were on the wrong end of a perfect game on Saturday.
— Obviously, Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle made the right call by rooting for his daughter over his employer.
— Ken Goe examines what's next for Oregon basketball.
— Stanford beat Rhode Island in the second round of the NIT.
We knew that Arizona, Oregon and Utah were going to get NCAA berths, and most assumed that the Utes and Wildcats would be sent to Portland.
But not many pundits predicted UCLA would make the field of 68 teams, giving the Pac-12 four March Madness representatives. You can enjoy the madness yourself, and maybe win a gift card, by taking part in our bracket-picking contest.
Here is the full NIT field, which includes Arizona State and Stanford from the Pac-12.
If you're looking for a printable bracket, here is the most complete one I've seen. Colorado is headed to the CBI, but Askia Booker is not joining the Buffaloes.
The Washington State women will play in the WNIT tomorrow, hosting Eastern Washington.
Some more links:
— ESPN's Josh Moyer shows how the Pac-12 is the best conference for producing passers.
— Arizona hasn't had any problems with its players on social media.
— Askia Booker's teammates say they support his decision not to play in the CBI.
— The Ducks finished just one spot shy of being ranked.
— UCLA assistant Adrian Klemm has been suspended for a recruiting violation.
—USC has already offered a scholarship to a high school freshman football player.
Washington State will not be one of the 75 or so teams earnestly huddled around TVs at 3 p.m. today earnestly awaiting their NCAA tournament fate.
For the Cougars, the 2014-15 season is almost certainly in the books. So in the paper today we took a look at the WSU season that was, why the Cougars could be better next year and how they might be worse.
In a week there will only be 16 teams left with a shot at a national championship, but for now lots of teams are still living that dream. That includes a couple area teams: Gonzaga and Eastern Washington. Seattle University almost made it, falling to New Mexico State in the WAC championship game last night, meaning we were this close to seeing a scenario in which three teams from the State of Washington make it to March Madness and none of them coming from the Pac-12.
Arizona will certainly make the tournament after thumping Oregon in the Pac-12 championship last night. The Wildcats sure looked the part of a No. 1 seed, but will likely settle for No. 2 seed today. Utah is likely to be the conference's only other tournament team, probably joining the Wildcats in Portland.
In other Pac-12 news …
— Joe Pistorese pitched a gem for WSU last night to give the Cougars a 4-2 upset at No. 6 USC.
— One of the state's best juniors has decided to play football at Washington.
— Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott spoke a little more about freshman ineligibility yesterday.
— California is hoping that some junior college transfers can get the Golden Bears back to a bowl game.
— A Colorado offensive lineman is facing assault charges after a fight.
No player had a bigger impact on the Pac-12 conference this season than Oregon's Joseph Young and his biggest moment came on the grandest stage yet of his career.
With the Pac-12 tournament semifinal game against third-seeded Utah tied at 64, Young sent No. 2-seed Oregon to tonight's championship game with an ice-cold pull-up from about 30 feet out with just over a second left on the clock.
Young and the Ducks don't have much time to celebrate, however. They face No. 5 Arizona at 8 p.m. While the Utes will have a chance to recover in the NCAA tournament, UCLA no longer controls its own destiny.
Also, Washington's starting quarterback went on sabbatical yesterday.
Washington State's ignominious loss to California on Wednesday was a bitter end for the Cougars.
But it did not dampen coach Ernie Kent's feelings that the program took great strides this season, and that WSU's two best performances against the Golden Bears came courtesy of a pair of sophomores sort of reinforces his point.
We've got plenty of links to pass along from the game, including our game story, the final stats, postgame quotes from Cal, video and transcripts of WSU's final postgame press conference and quotes from some locker room interviews I conducted afterwards.
Percy Allen of the Seattle Times has a game story, as does the Associated Press. A WSU student wrote this story about departing senior DaVonté Lacy, which was published in the Times.
Washington State seemed a little sluggish in the Pac-12 tournament's noon game, while California couldn't have looked more refreshed. The result was another early Pac-12 tournament exit for the Cougars, who have now lost their tournament-opening game six consecutive times. Below is the unedited version of my game story, which takes a look at what went wrong today and what the future holds for WSU and its senior players.
By Jacob Thorpe
LAS VEGAS—Throughout his first season as the Washington State men's basketball coach, Ernie Kent has tried to supplement his players' basketball education with off-the-court lessons and support.
He's helped Jordan Railey navigate the challenges of building a family while practically still a kid, himself, and reunited DaVonté Lacy with certain, estranged parental figures in his life.
One of Kent's common themes in his conferences with players is the transcendence of "generational bondage," the tendency to follow the same mistakes and undesired outcomes of one's predecessors.
It's a lesson the Cougars showed they have yet to learn as they ended their season with an uninspired, 84-59 loss to California in the team's sixth-consecutive Pac-12 tournament-opening defeat.
There is no reason grounded in skill or talent why WSU (13-18, 7-11 Pac-12) could not beat Cal (18-14, 7-11). The Golden Bears only finished one spot higher in the conference than the Cougars, and the teams split two close games during the regular season.
Yet at the neutral site of the MGM Grand Arena, on a court where neither team had ever won, the Cougars appeared unable to compete from the opening tip, giving up a third-chance 3-pointer after easy rebounds twice bounced off Josh Hawkinson – the Pac-12's leading rebounder's – hands.
"I thought there were several opportunities that we could have grabbed rebounds," Kent said. "We were kind or bumbling into each other a little bit so I don't know if that's nerves or whatever."
The first half ended when the Cougars gave up an offensive rebound following Sam Singer's missed free throw and Jabari Bird drained a 3-pointer to give Cal a 37-26 lead.
The second half more uninspired play from the Cougars, who were never able to stop Cal's shooters on the perimeter or post David Kravish inside. Kravish had a career-high 25 points and the Golden Bears made 8 of 12 3-point attempts.
There was even a stretch spanning both halves in which Cal made 14 of 15 shot attempts.
"I think they had more energy and effort and at certain times they wanted it more than us," Lacy said. "They chased down loose balls, dived hard and I think at the end of the day the team that wanted it more won."
All that offense made it impossible for the Cougars to ignite their secondary-break following missed shots and maybe establish some offensive rhythm with some easy buckets.
"I think the key to Washington State, they do a tremendous job of running in transition offensively, "Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought we really set the tone there to try to slow those guys down. They get out in transition, it could be a long night for you."
The loss is a sour ending to the season since the Cougars have spent the last couple weeks on the upswing, beating a Colorado team that butchered WSU in Boulder earlier in the year and playing to-the-wire games against UCLA and Utah, the No. 4 and No. 3 teams in the conference, respectively.
And it ends the career of DaVonté Lacy, who was held to single-digits for just the fifth time this season with nine points on Wednesday, but ends his career as the No. 5 scorer in school history with 1,548 points.
Lacy considered transferring during the offseason and playing his senior year for a more nationally prominent program. But he returned to school and, along with fellow seniors Dexter Kernich-Drew and Railey, led the Cougars to as many Pac-12 wins as their previous two seasons combined.
"I told them that this program, and me and my staff, will forever be indebted to what they did for us this year," Kent said. "Because they did a lot behind the scenes by allowing themselves to be transparent and showing their strength of character, because it's outstanding."
The Portsmouth Invitational has already extended an invite to Lacy, who said after the game that he will participate in the annual showcase of college seniors to more than one hundred NBA scouts. Railey has expressed a desire to pursuit a professional career overseas, possibly in France or Italy.
And the returning players will come back next season and try to build on what the seniors built, and once again to break WSU's long habit of promptly losing in the Pac-12 tournament.
A pair of sophomores, Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu, will surely be the team's best players next season. Hawkinson, earner of the Pac-12's Most Improved Player honor, added to his school-record with his 20th double-double this season, while Iroegbu was the team's leading scorer with 17 points.
"It's nothing but up from here, man," Lacy said. "I think this is probably going to be (Kent's) worst season … It's going to be cool to watch them mature."
Locker rooms interviews.
Question: What was the difference in today's game?
DaVonté Lacy: I think they had more energy and effort and at certain times they wanted it more than us. They chased down loose balls, dived hard and I think at the end of the day the team that wanted it more won.
Q: What was going through your mind at the end of the game?
DL: It was kind of, I gave so much of my body, everything, I gave everything I could to this program and that was just the realization that it's over. There's nothing more I can do for this program. I've just got to continue to do me and continue to rep WSU the best I can and that was just an overwhelming emotion.
Q: What do you think of your decision not to transfer last offseason?
DL: This was one of the best years, enjoyable, the coaching staff and the players. There was not one time when I was like, "I should have left." Every day I was like, "Man, I'm happy I stayed." The coaches made me really, really enjoy it. It's not going to be written yet but in a couple years when they do win the Pac-12 tournament, my name is going to be around there somewhere, as laying the groundwork, I feel like. And Dexter's name and Jordan's name will always be around there as someone that could have left, all three of us could have, and I think we stayed and laid the groundwork for something special.
Q: What about the guys that are coming back?
EK: It's nothing but up from here, man. I think this is probably going to be (Kent's) worst season. I mean we have a sophomore that's averaging a double-double. A sophomore that started all last year, this year and we had a freshman that started half the year. They're so young. A lot of attention went to me and Dexter down the stretch but we wouldn't have been in that position without those guys and they're going to keep developing and keep maturing. It's going to be cool to watch them mature.
Q: What's your expectation for next year?
DL: I just have to play to my ability. I think I can play at the next level, be in the NBA and if I work hard enough it's going to come true, I think. All I need is some space and opportunity and with Portsmouth and the team workouts that are coming up I think I'll have a shot just to prove myself. I think I've been underrated all my life and college hasn't been any different so I've just got to go out and prove myself.
Q: Is it scary to not be a college guy any longer?
DL: I just thought about it, it is. It's scary to think in a couple months I'm not going to keep getting that check so I can pay my rent. I've got to figure out a way to pay my rent. I'm in the real world now, I've got to figure out a way to feed my family, my upcoming family, you know. I've got to figure it out. But I'm not scared, I'm prepared for it. Coach Kent has done a great job preparing us off the court so I'm not fearful of it at all, now I'm sitting there like what's next? That's what's next so I've got to conquer that.
Q: Do you know where you're going to train yet?
DL: Not yet, I've got to meet with some agents and from there I need to figure out what NBA teams want from me and what place can help me develop that.
Q: Have you talked to Klay Thompson or Brock Motum about the process?
DL: I talked to Brock a little bit about it and I actually talked to Abdul Gaddy a couple days ago about it. But I've reached out to who I need to reach out to, I have full trust in coach Kent and my other advisors that they'll put me in the right direction.
Q: What was has Kent helped you off the court?
DL: For me he's been working on my relationships with certain figures in my life, certain parental figures in my life and helping us bond back together. He's been so instrumental in that. He talks about generational bondage and it's a continual pattern and I've already broken it in my first year, college attendee, let alone graduated high school. Only half of my family graduated from high school, speaking of my mom and my dad so I've just to continue to do what I think is right and what I believe in.
Question: With a few scorers graduating what can you do this offseason to become someone who can replace them?
Que Johnson: In the offseason we're just going to keep working as a team. We're all still young. We're losing DaVonté, Jordan and Dex but we've still have Ike, me, Josh, so we can makeup for them.
Q: What's the difference in the games where you score well and the ones where you don't?
QJ: Confidence is key. I just have to stay confident in myself rather than shying away.
Q: What went wrong early in the game?
QJ: Cal's a good team. We missed a couple defensive assignments and they capitalized on it.
Question: How are you going to try and improve your game this offseason?
Brett Boese: I know for me, I'm just going to try and keep it simple. Maybe work more on coming off ball-screens. Our offense has a lot of stuff coming off ball-screens, like you guys have seen all season. Working on attacking the rim more, things like that. I'm a good free-throw shooter so I'd like to get to the line more but keep it simple, nothing too dramatic or drastic, just continue to get better and work over the summer.
Q: Are there skills you've added to your game this year that can really improve over an offseason?
BB: Yeah, you know you might have a thing but there might not be opportunities in the game, the flow of the game might not allow you to do those types of things. It's something that you don't really think about during the game, you think about it in the offseason and then you feel really confident about it. Once you feel really confident about it, you don't even think about it, you just read and react.
Q: With two of the teams shooters graduating will that keep you outside the arc more?
BB: I hope so, I hope to continue to do what I'm doing. I like, shooting the ball, obviously. As far as just extending my game, be able to put it on the floor a little bit more and make an easy attack to the hoop. We have a lot of shooters on this team, we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of great things. In just the last two or three weeks, I've seen in our scout team practices a lot of guys really growing and making strides toward their games. So, we'll have to see who's going to step up in the offseason and fill the huge shoes of Jordan and DaVonté and Dexter.
Question: How important is it for you to work on your outside shot this offseason?
Ike Iroegbu: It's very important. My shot in general, I'm going to do a lot of shooting this offseason, a lot of spot-up 3s, moving 3s, coming off the bounce. That's one thing I'm really going to focus on is shooting off the bounce. I feel like this last summer I focused really on spotting up, this summer I'm going to really focus on moving and trying to move my game to shooting off the bounce. I know I can drive; I feel like I'm a solid driver. I know that if I can move and shoot off the bounce it will be harder for the defense.
Washington State coach Ernie Kent joined Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson to address the media following WSU's loss to California. Below is a transcript of what they said.
Ernie Kent opening statement:
First of all, I want to talk about Cal because I thought they did a really excellent job in the game. Shooting, they shot the ball extremely well from the 3 and I thought (David) Kravish was just spectacular with his play inside. We didn't have a lot of answers in there for him and had a difficult time defending the perimeter as well, too, which is a problem we've had off and on, obviously all year.
I also want to say, when I took over this program 11 months ago, I saw a group of young men that lacked a lot of confidence. I saw a group of young men that have been through so much the last two years and it's a testament to their character that they have been just phenomenal in terms of allowing us to coach them, handling themselves both on the floor and off the floor. The travel, handling themselves in airports and hotels, it's just a really special group to be around. Their record may not reflect it but they had a lot of victories this year just in terms of how much growth took place in our program.
Question: How much did you game plan for David Kravish?
Ernie Kent: He did not hurt us too bad the last two games and we talked about keeping the ball out of his hands and keeping him from touching it so much. I just don't think we did a very good job of that. Once he got rolling and got his confidence, he was very, very difficult to stop. So, I wouldn't say he was the No. 1 focal point, just because their guards are so good – Matthews has been shooting it so well, Tyrone torched us for 21 in the first half, alone, when we played them last – but it was certainly a focal point to try to limit his touches.
Q: Were you surprised at their early advantage in hustle plays?
EK: The surprise wasn't so much the hustle points, it was the hustle points that we gave up to them. I thought there were several opportunities that we could have grabbed rebounds, we were kind or bumbling into each other a little bit so I don't know if that's nerves or whatever. I didn't think we got off to a great start to the game and consequently, they had great confidence after the first eight or nine minutes and it was a different Cal team that we had to deal with.
Q: How important was Jabari Bird's performance defending DaVonté Lacy and how did Cal stop he and Josh Hawkinson?
EK: I thought they did a really good job out on the perimeter with using their athletic guards to switch. It took us out of some things. I think for us, when we defend and we have energy at that end of the floor we can get out and run and get some easy buckets. They eliminated a lot of that and we lost the offensive rebounds and gave up easy putbacks. It's hard to run on a team when they're scoring; they shoot 67 percent from 3 and Kravish is having the game he had, there's not a lot of transition opportunities for us, which doesn't allow DaVonté to get out and run and create some opportunities to get easy buckets. Everything became a half-court game and they were pretty good defensively, taking some things away from us.
Q: Question for Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson, since you will both be back next year can you talk about the team's development this year?
Ike Iroegbu: This year was hard coming off what we had last year and when we first met coach Kent he talked about how we were going to play fast and I felt like we did that, for the most part, this year. And me and Josh, we underclassmen I feel like we learned a lot from our three seniors: Jordan (Railey, Dex(ter Kernich-Drew) and DaVonté. The led us, for the most part. They did a great job of teaching us how to act on and off the court and coach Kent instilled confidence in us that we hadn't seen before so I appreciate everyone that was around us and can't wait until next year.
Josh Hawkinson: Pretty much the same thing, what he said. We've been working a lot as a unit, and growing over this past year, and we didn't want to end it this way for our seniors, Dex, Vonté and Jordan, but I think we've got a good group of guys coming back to make a strong run next year.
Q: Why wasn't Jordan able to continue his strong play in the second half?
EK: A big thing with Jordan, as you know, is confidence. I thought – they started the game with a small lineup, so we instantly went inside and I thought he got off to a great start to the game, probably had a couple more buckets that he could have scored that would have really helped his confidence.
The foul trouble really knocked him out of rhythm, I thought, because he was really starting to find his rhythm in the game and he picked up the second quick foul and consequently picked up the third foul, too, in the second half. So I thought they had a big effect on his confidence in the second half.
Q: What's your message to your three seniors?
EK: A couple things. I told them every team in the country, when it's all sad and done there's only one champion at the end of the year and everyone else feels like us. Because when your season ends it's an abrupt end to everything. The emotions and all that stuff. For those three seniors, however, they need to really take some time and stop and reflect in terms of how much growth and development happened to them in their lives.
Because, if you knew each one of their individual stories, they are already a success in their lives for being here and handling themselves because those are some strong character men down there that did a tremendous job of laying and outstanding foundation. So I told them that this program, and me and my staff, will forever be indebted to what they did for us this year. Because they did a lot behind the scenes by allowing themselves to be transparent and showing their strength of character, because it's outstanding.
Q: What do you think about Lacy's career coming to an end?
EK: Specifically you want them to play again, particularly those seniors, you want them to play as much as possible because he's a player – in this day and age, I've said this several times. With young people, there were 400 transfers in Division I college basketball last year, 500 last year, it's on course to be 600 this year and when you have a player that's your best player, one of the better players in the conference, he did not jump schools. So many players want to jump schools because they can have success more and have an opportunity to get to the NBA quicker, whatever. He stayed. He stayed at his school, he was true to his school and if anybody deserved to have some success, it was DaVonté Lacy.
For me, part of the emotion you saw was a young man who loved his teammates and loved his college experience and it was very difficult to see that come to an end. That, to me, epitomizes what the college student-athlete should be about: staying, staying loyal, staying true to his home and trying to build this basketball program, and when he had an opportunity to leave he did not do it.
Q: What are your thoughts on the program moving forward?
EK: You know, I was elated the day that Bill Moos gave me an opportunity to come back and work for him and get back into coaching. Every day, even through the adversity, every day has been a good day because even through your losses, even through the adversity of coming back, your basketball program was constantly learning and growing and getting better.
With the year that DaVonté Lacy had, and Jordan and Dex, their growth shows me again that relationships are extremely important at this level. To see these guys next to me, how much they've developed this year – Ike did a fabulous job for us, the game he had the last game of the season was just an incredible game and he's had some wonderful moments. For Josh to lead this conference in rebounding, to have the second-biggest turnaround in college basketball in terms of most-improved (points per game), I can't tell you how happy and how proud I am of those two. Because, the three seniors led us to this point and they left this program in tremendous hands with Ike, Josh and Junior Longrus is another. Those are going to be three very vocal, outstanding seniors that again, are on track academically, are your hardest workers, they're going to be the guys we call on next year and I think we have great, great leadership coming down the road.
Q: Josh, where do you take your game this offseason?
JH: I definitely feel I need to improve defensively, guarding smaller players out on the perimeter that I need to switch out on. Also, getting stronger and getting better position on the post, fronting, not letting them get the ball. Because I feel like Kravish kind of exposed our posts, tonight, definitely. Continue to get quicker and improve my shot, extend it out to 3-point range as well.
Washington State's football coaches continue to make hay after signing day, adding receiver Rickey Preston to the 2015 recruiting class.
Preston's announcement, first reported by Britton Ransford of WazzuWatch.com, makes him the third player to join WSU's recruiting class since Mike Leach held his Signing Day press conference.
The first was Georgia cornerback Sean Harper and the second was safety Hunter Dale. Like Dale, Preston comes to WSU from Louisiana. He claimed some impressive offers from schools such as Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M, and it seems reasonable to think he formed some relationship with new WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch when he was coaching safeties for the Tigers.
According to Ransford's premium article, Preston was expected to go to junior college because of academic issues but is now expected to be able to enroll right away by signing a financial aid agreement, and shore up a class of receiving recruits that was a little light after some late defections.
Check out the highlights:
— WSU baseball opens Pac-12 play against USC on Friday so I've got a story on what to expect from the youthful Cougars.
— Yesterday I made my selections for the Pac-12's All-Conference teams and postseason awards. And yeah, I nailed them.
— Ted Miller broke down the quarterbacks of the Pac-12 North.
— And Chantel Jennings had a Q&A session with WSU's new defensive coordinator.
Today the Pac-12 conference will announce its individual awards and All-Conference teams for men's basketball.
The coaches, not media, vote on these honors but I'm going to create my own teams and awards anyways. First off, I'd do away with the silly practice of having 10 members of the first team, because it's clearly ridiculous to have 10 players all on the same tier and defeats the purpose of ranking them at all.
Also, each team will consist of three guards and two forwards, and there will be a first, second and third team, just as Dr. Naismith obviously intended.
All the statistics are conference-only.
Player of the Year: Joseph Young, Oregon
I have a feeling that the coaches will select Arizona's T.J. McConnell for Pac-12 Player of the Year and follow their longstanding tradition of picking the best player on the best team. The Wildcats are certainly the best team and McConnell is their engine, so there is certainly logic to the choice, even if at times it can result in a dubious selection (see: Randle, Jerome).
But I fail to see how any player came close to impacting the Pac-12 season as much as Oregon guard Joseph Young. Forget that he leads the conference in scoring with 19.9 points per game against Pac-12 teams while ranking in the top-15 in both assists and steals, or that he's the best free-throw shooter in the conference.
Young took a team that was picked No. 8 in the conference preseason media poll, that played games with as few as seven scholarship players after dismissing three of them, and that had the most prominent local columnist calling for its head coach's job in the middle of the season and basically shot them to the No. 2 spot in the conference.
If McConnell never came to Arizona from Duquesne, the Wildcats would still be the conference's best team. Easily. Maybe they'd lose one more Pac-12 game. But if Young never headed west from Houston I'm not sure Oregon is a top-10 team in the Pac-12 this year. Seriously, go look at that roster again. Not one other player came close to sniffing my All-Conference teams.
But because of his play, UO finished ahead of Utah, a team that still has reasonable Final Four aspirations. No one was more important to his team than Young and that's why he's my Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Gary Payton II, Oregon State
Just like his daddy. Gary Payton won the award in 1987 and his son should win it in 2015 after leading the Pac-12 in steals per game (3.06), while ranking sixth in blocked shots (1.28).
Like his dad, the younger Payton is a long and a fantastic athlete and he has a way of always seeming to show up just when offensive players think they're in the clear to send what would have been an easy basket into the crowd.
There is obviously a strong case to be made for Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a lengthy forward that routinely locked up opponent's best players. But Payton II was more dynamic and had an unmatched ability to change the momentum of a game with his defense and for that he gets the nod.
Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon
Much of the turmoil that plagued the Ducks this offseason and put them in such a precarious situation at the start of the year can be blamed on Altman, so it's tempting to punish him for that. But it's impossible to escape the fact that even had Oregon's offseason been nice and quiet and if all three dismissed players had suited up, no one outside of Nike headquarters would have expected the Ducks to finish second in the conference race.
It was remarkable for Altman to successfully navigate all the distraction's surrounding this UO team – even the self-inflicted ones – and guide the Ducks to wins in nine of their last 10 games.
Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Easy choice. Johnson was the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the conference's best team. He's a basketball player designed by Ferrari in a lab and a sure bet to be the first Pac-12 player drafted by the NBA.
Most Improved Player: Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
This was an even easier choice than freshman of the year. Last year Hawkinson averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds. This year he averaged 14.7 and 10.8 and was the conference's best rebounder. He went from bench-warmer to holding the school record with 19 double-doubles (and counting) in one season. Again, this is a really obvious choice.
G: Joseph Young, UO – He's the MVP in my book, so of course he's on the first team.
G: T.J. McConnell, AZ – Does a great job managing the conference's best team.
G: Delon Wright, UTAH – Maybe the best pure basketball player in the conference, does everything well.
F: Stanley Johnson, AZ – Incredible athlete that is constantly getting more polished.
F: Josh Hawkinson, WSU – The only player to average a double-double.
G: Chasson Randle, STAN – One of the conference's best scorers. Gets to the charity stripe at will.
G: Tyrone Wallace, CAL – Top-15 in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.
G: Nigel Williams-Goss, UW – Did a lot with little support. Dangerous scorer and passer.
F: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, AZ – Very good on offense, exceptional on defense and also a great rebounder.
F: Kevon Looney, UCLA – Freshman was a terror on the offensive glass.
G: DaVonté Lacy, WSU – A crafty scorer who hit a clutch shot on Senior Night.
G: Bryce Alford, UCLA – Inconsistent but capable of excellent games when he's on.
G: Norman Powell, UCLA – A dynamic scorer with quick hands on defense.
F: Stefan Nastic, STAN – A consistent forward in a conference lacking quality post players.
F: Jakob Poeltl, UTAH – Freshman 7-footer should be a star next season.
G: Jordan McLaughlin—Off to a stellar debut before injury struck.
F: Dillon Brooks, OR—Impressive defender around the rim.
F: Stanley Johnson, AZ—Only realistic freshman lottery pick.
F: Jakob Poeltl, UTAH—Lots of tools, needs to be more consistent.
F: Kevon Looney—Very active for a freshman.
(OK, I broke my own rule about the number of guards and forwards on each team. This was not a good year for freshman guards, to say the least.)
G: Gary Payton II, OSU—Does it all on defense.
G: Norman Powell, UCLA—Will steal the ball and dunk it in the same breath.
G: Delon Wright, UTAH—Just a solid all-around basketball player on both ends.
F: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, AZ—Smothers guards and forwards alike.
F: Robert Upshaw, UW—Dismissed with 11 games to go and still leads Pac-12 in blocked shots.
And as promised, here are the links:
— Yesterday we took a closer look at WSU's win over Colorado.
— The Pac-12 Blog looks at some of the questions surrounding the Cougars heading into spring football practice.
— Percy Allen hands out his own Pac-12 Awards.
— Here is the case FOR T.J. McConnell as conference Player of the Year.
— Should the Pac-12 consider selling an equity stake of the Pac-12 Networks?
— Stanford's Christian McCaffrey is playing all over the field in spring practice.
Washington State beat Colorado in overtime thanks to double-doubles from two sophomores and big contributions from all three departing seniors.
Here are final stats from the game, as well as postgame video interviews with Ernie Kent, DaVonte Lacy, Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson.
Here is our story from the win, which puts WSU into a three-way tie for 8th place in the Pac-12 with Cal and CU. Cal comes out on top of the tiebreaker because of its collective head-to-head record (2-1) with WSU (2-2) and Colorado (1-2). The Cougars come next because of their win over the conference's No. 2 team, Oregon, which came into play because neither WSU nor CU beat conference champion Arizona. The AP has a game story, as does the Boulder Daily Camera.
We have a blog post breaking down next week's Pac-12 tournament matchups.
Here's what else happened yesterday …
— The Huskies had a good Senior Day as well, somehow stunning No. 13 Utah.
— Stanford's limp to the regular season's end concluded with a blowout loss at Arizona as the Wildcats' seniors capped a splendid season in style.
— Arizona State made it to a .500 record in conference play with a close win over Cal at home.
Today Washington State will kinda, sorta say goodbye to three seniors players, all of whom have made major impacts this season.
There will be a short ceremony and then the Cougars will play their final home game – unless it isn't – against Colorado. Here is a feature I wrote this week on WSU's seniors.
Obviously DaVonté Lacy had the biggest impact of the three in his career: He will retire as one of WSU's top-five scorers ever and has already made four more 3-pointers than any other Cougar.
He's been the player-spokesman for two years and handled it well since he's a funny, insightful guy. His teams haven't had the success on the court he hoped for when he came to WSU, but he's had some big moments and some memorable victories.
WSU's other seniors, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey, have as well. Kernich-Drew was the key to at least two Pac-12 wins this season and will always this ridiculous fade-away against Arizona State to remember when thinking back on his career.
Railey? No matter what he did this year his career will always be most-fondly remembered for this:
He also led the team in scoring against Cal.
Before the seniors say goodbye we'll pass along a few links.
— Yesterday we took a look back at WSU's close loss against Utah.
— The WSU women suffered injuries to their best players and fell to ASU in the Pac-12 tournament.
— I took in the WSU baseball game from the stands and watched the Cougars pad their stats against an overmatched Sacred Heart team.
— Adam Lewis doesn't like the local teams' chances in the Pac-12 tournament.
Tonight Washington State will take on No. 13 Utah, the team that blows out everyone but Arizona.
OK, so that's the pessimistic view. But the Utes are really, really good and this would be a huge victory for the Cougars. That being said, they beat the Utes in Pullman last year and both teams are much improved since then.
It's also the beginning of the end for WSU's seniors, who will play their last game on Saturday. It's been a wild year for the trio. Dexter Kernich-Drew turned into a premiere scorer at the end of his final season and Jordan Railey has had a better year than anybody could have predicted. DaVonté Lacy was thinking about transferring at the end of last season, but is pretty glad he stayed. We've got a story on all that in today's paper.
To supplement today's coverage we've got our weekly WSU outlook a transcript of our interview yesterday with Ernie Kent and post-practice video interviews with Kernich-Drew and Lacy.
The WSU women open the Pac-12 tournament today at 11:30 a.m. against Oregon. Here's Thomas Clouse's preview.
There were a couple rivalry games played in the Pac-12 yesterday. Oregon outlasted Oregon State in a rare Beavers home loss. Jason Quick says that OSU coach Wayne Tinkle – a Coach of the Year finalist – has had a great season, if not a great game. Dana Altman may not be a Naismith finalist, but he's coached the Ducks, picked No. 8 in the preseason media poll, to a third-place finish in the Pac-12.
UCLA and USC's regular seasons ended in predictable fashion with the Bruins besting the Trojans at home.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is also in the Coach of the Year running.
Washington State's seniors have at least three more games to play but the torch passing has already begun, according to Ernie Kent.
Senior Night is Saturday and Kent expects the WSU underclassmen to step up and assume the leadership mantle by making sure DaVonté Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey win their (maybe) final game at home.
"The seniors have done a terrific job of leading up until this point," said Kent during Wednesday's media availability. "There's a transition phase that's getting ready to take place when seniors play their last game because I put that pressure on the underclassmen. It's their job to make sure the seniors don't lose at home."
Of course, it might not be WSU's last home game. As I wrote this morning, the Cougars could still host a game in the College Basketball Invitational. Kent may have let slip that he agrees today, answering another question about Senior Night by saying that it will be, "maybe the last time you'll play at home."
The full transcript from our interview with Kent is below:
WSU coach Ernie Kent
Q: Is Josh Hawkinson getting back into a rhythm?
EK: Well, what I told all of you earlier on when everybody talked about him not hitting 3s, looking like he's a little fatigued – well, he's only a freshman. He only played two minutes a game last year so he's his freshman season of playing major minutes and every single freshman will hit the wall.
Every freshman in the country hits the wall and at some point in time they have to climb over that wall and get going again and that's exactly what happened to Josh. He's played some major minutes, he's been outstanding, he hit the wall a little bit and a lot of it had to do with the scheduling of the teams that we were up against and now he's climbing over it again. It is very, very difficult to have 18 double-doubles in a single year.
I don't care if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or even a senior. That's very tough to do it and he's got that Cougar uniform on and he's doing it right here at Washington State, that's tremendous for our program.
Q: Is Brett Boese's confidence back after hitting a couple 3-pointers at UCLA?
EK: I certainly hope so and confidence is a very fragile thing where a relative can knock you out of whack, a girlfriend can knock you out of whack, reading social media can knock you out of whack and reading what you guys print can knock you out of whack. And a coach can knock a player out of whack, too. It's such a fragile thing dealing with young people in this day and age and that's why we try to spend as much time as we can reinforcing things in a positive way.
You've never seen me dwell on the negatives too much because there's enough negative in the lives of young people anyhow, we try to take the positive approach with everything we do. I'm hoping he continues to play well, we certainly need his jump shot and, not only that, I thought he played well in the USC and particularly in the UCLA game in his energy and what he brought to the floor defensively.
Q: Are Senior Night games typically sloppy because of the distractions?
EK: Yeah there's two different times of the year: Exhibition games are usually terrible at the start of the year and then Senior Night. It's just because of the emotion. You really have to honor them and some coaches have gone away from honoring before the game and honor them after the game for that reason. I like to do it better before the game.
You have to keep the emotions in check and that's hard to do because you're coming down to the end of senior seasons, it's the last time you'll maybe play at home and you have to go out and play a basketball game afterwards. So it's a little bit of a balancing act but hopefully we'll be able to manage that.
Q: What kind of impact did these seniors make during their one year in your program?
EK: What they've been able to do in a year is, No. 1 buy into the coaching staff, particularly with seniors when you've got a coaching change and they're used to doing things a certain way. They completely bought in and, not that we changed things 360 degrees but there still was a lot of drastic change in the program, they bought into it and that's huge because by them buying into it everyone kind of follows suit with that.
No. 2, their ability to open up, communicate and allow us to have relationships with them was huge because typically with seniors, we did not recruit them, that's very difficult to do. But here are three guys that allowed us to get to know them as people so we could better serve them as coaches. So that was huge and I thought it helped them in terms of their growth and helped our program.
And lastly, just their ability to at times, each one of them had their moment when they carried the team in a ballgame, and certainly in practice, and that was huge because what they basically have done is taught the young guys how to work, how to be responsible. The fact that they're going to graduate on time, the importance of the academic piece and all of that. I'm going to commend them for hanging with us, allowing us to lead them, allowing us to coach them and buying into what we wanted to do.
Q: How important was it to get DaVonté Lacy on board early?
K: Well, DaVonté's a player, he knows. And doing TV games you have a bit of a relationship with those guys already because you have them with the microphone in front of their face. For him, walking in the door when you've got a coach and, not to pat myself on the back or anything, but you've got guys sitting in the NBA and you've won this conference and you've been to two Elite Eights, that's hard to do.
So, your credibility was already there so it wasn't difficult to get them to buy in. It was more or less, "let me show you what you need to do to get to that level." And that buy-in was not difficult at all.
Q: Is Lacy good enough to play professionally?
EK: I certainly think he has the ability to do it. But the NBA, it's all about matchups and how you match up with different teams and what they're looking for. In this day and age, with the majority of players in this conference that have that NBA potential, they're going to have to get to a workout situation, which a lot of those guys will do, then see how they perform and see which team kind of locks in with who they are and what they need.
With the majority of these players it's not going to be about coming out and being a star in the NBA. You're going to be a bench warmer and be a team player so it's very important that you have that mentality to sit at the end of that bench while LeBron is the star – that's his team. So they look at a lot of different things but he certainly has the character, has the game. It's going to be really right team right time in terms of his workouts.
Q: Are there examples off the court that demonstrate his maturity and leadership?
EK: I think again, as I said, how he handled himself on that China trip. That was away from us, that was off the court what they did on that trip and how he became one of the leaders of that group of All-Stars.
And I read where Larry (Krystkowiak) said if he had selected captains that would have been one of his captains. That says a lot about his character to be able to go in that environment, be submissive with his game but have the leadership quality that guys at that level, the All-Stars in the conference, followed him. That says enough right there.
Q: How can his success help with recruiting in western Washington?
EK: I think any senior that leaves a program, your former players become your greatest asset in recruiting. And that's why it was so important to grow the program while they were here, have some success while they're on the floor with this system, style of play, build some relationships.
They leave here feeling good about themselves and what was accomplished this year in terms of the growth of the program because I think any three of those guys, when they go back into their environments later on, I feel very strongly that they would have no qualms about recommending any player and pointing them in this direction because, No. 1 the style of play, No. 2, the academics that you have over here, the college environment, college experience that all of them have had here, the relationships we have with our players and just the feel of the program and where it's going.
I think they would be probably our biggest sales people as they leave out the door. That tells you you've had tremendous success within if you can get players to turn around and sell on their way out the door.
Q: What needs to change to play better against Utah the second time?
EK: We need to a much, much better job defensively and not make as many, what I recall, bonehead mistakes because we had a lot of mistakes in the game. They capitalized on the mistakes and then we did not do a very good job defensively, which our numbers have told us. I feel like against USC, UCLA, we're getting better defensively late in the year. We've made some adjustments we don't need to talk about but I thought for us to have an opportunity to close the gap with either Utah or Colorado, both those teams gave us problems, we've got to play a lot smarter, a lot tougher and a lot better defense.
The smartness is on the offensive end of the floor, the toughness is just the game in general and the defense is obviously on that end of the floor.
Q: How do you prevent a similar carryover from Utah to Colorado game as last time if the Utah game goes the same way?
EK: It's just different. You're at home, you're not in the altitude, you're not sitting in hotels for a long time. It's a different environment coming home and closing it out in the seniors' last game. The piece that you guys have yet to talk about – in my programs in the past the seniors have done a terrific job of leading up until this point. There's a transition phase that's getting ready to take place when seniors play their last game because I put that pressure on the underclassmen. It's their job to make sure the seniors don't lose at home.
That's the transition, the seniors have led up until this point. Now the underclassmen get to take the responsibility that they're going to have anyhow as they head into the spring that they're going to become the leaders of this program and where it goes next year so this is huge, these games, in terms of how we handle the emotions, how we perform, how we compete, how we handle the success and hopefully send our seniors out on the right way.
It's just as important for the underclassmen to get ready to lead this program as we head into the future.
Q: Have any underclassmen stepped up already?
EK: I don't know if it's any particular person, that's what you're cultivating right now because that passing of the gauntlet is coming quick and they need to know that. When I look at this team and I talk about Ike and Que and Junior, obviously Brett, those guys have been through the fire. This becomes their team and more so than it becomes a freshman's team although Ny Redding has been good this year and very vocal, and his energy has really helped us a lot in practice. It's the returning players that have played the big minutes, hit the big shots, that have been in the games. It's their turn, their time to lead and that all starts whenever your season ends but for me that starts right now with your seniors and sending them out the right way and eventually they lead us into the spring workouts, summer workouts and all those things.
Unless it wins the Pac-12 tournament, Washington State (12-16, 6-10 Pac-12) isn't making the NCAA tournament.
The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is off the table, as well. But there is a third postseason event, the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), and the Cougars could be right on the edge of having their own bit of March Madness. WSU played in the CBI in 2012, making it to the championship round before falling to Pittsburgh.
Teams don't always accept CBI invites – the schools have to pay to enter, pay even more to host, and it is firmly the least prestigious postseason event in the American sports canon – but I'm confident that WSU coach Ernie Kent would accept a bid in order to give his improving team more chances to play.
It's no guarantee that the Cougars get an invite of course, and looking back at the last few CBI brackets it seems unlikely but not impossible for WSU to receive a bid. The other "Power Conference" teams to participate in recent years are typically right around .500 overall and a game or two below that in conference play. If the Cougars were to split their remaining two games, their resume would be on the low end of what's typical but not markedly so.
Penn State made it last year while going 16-18 and 6-12 in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions had an RPI ranking of 115. Currently WSU ranks No. 145 in the RPI rankings and while a win over Colorado would help, the Cougars would likely need to upset No. 13 Utah on Thursday to really impact their RPI.
In 2013 Texas received a CBI invite with a 16-17 record while going 7-11 in the Big 12.
The Cougars were swept in their first crack at the mountain schools and if that happens again it's hard to see them getting a shot at the postseason. But if WSU can win one or both games then they might have a shot.
Here are some links:
— Kevin Gemmel of the Pac-12 Blog says WSU's Destiny Vaeao has a lot to prove this spring.
— You won't see Rick Neuheisel on the Pac-12 Network after games this fall.
— WSU signed another football recruit this week.
— Bud Withers asks if Washington should stand by coach Lorenzo Romar.
— A No. 1 seed is on the table but Arizona is just focused on getting through this week.
— A peak behind Arizona State's Curtain of Distraction.
— Cal's Tyrone Wallace addresses NBA speculation.
— Colorado's new defensive coordinator expects more from the Buffaloes.
— Another year, another group of Oregon freshmen ready to shine on the gridiron.
— There are plenty of candidates to replace Sean Mannion at Oregon State.
— Stanford has concerns on the right side of the offensive line.
— Spring practice is in the air at USC.
Washington State held off UCLA for most of Sunday's game but the Bruins had more in the tank at the end of the game and came away with a 72-67 win.
The postgame interviews were done in a noisy arena with encircling fans cheering the postgame radio broadcast piping through the speakers, so no video this time. But here is our story from the game as well as the final stats.
— The Ducks won at Stanford to clinch third in the Pac-12.
— California won its Senior Night matchup with Oregon State, which still struggles mightily on the road.
— Arizona State failed in its quest to spoil Colorado's Senior Night.
— Wrapping up Stanford's first open spring practice.
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. Washington State will try to beat UCLA in Los Angeles. History won't side with the Cougars in this one.
WSU has beaten the Bruins on their turf just twice in its history but, hey, there's got to be a third time for everything, right? We've got a preview of the game in the paper today.
And on the blog yesterday we recapped a fun interview Mike Leach had with 710 ESPN Seattle.
Here's what happened on the court yesterday:
— As SWPullman points out below, Tia Presley went out in style with 28 points and a Senior Night win.
— Washington's free fall in the standings, and on the bench, continued in a blowout at USC.
— Utah made a great game of it but fell to Arizona, who will assuredly be this year's Pac-12 champion and maybe a No. 1 seed.
There were three Pac-12 games played on Thursday and oh, were they ever uncompetitive.
Utah absolutely crushed Arizona State. Oregon State actually led Stanford at halftime and somehow lost by almost 30 points. With a big game against the Utes coming up, Arizona cruised to an easy win over Colorado.
— Washington State's game against USC was nearly a blowout but ended up close. Yesterday we took a look back at the win.
— Mock drafts don't have anywhere close to a consensus on where Marcus Mariota will go.
— Some spring questions for Colorado's football team, which is already practicing.
What do you call a game that sees five first-half free throws and 43 after halftime?
It certainly wasn't pretty and that tale of two halves somewhat told the story of the game, although really it was more a tale of two quarters since the Cougars nearly doubled their 10-point halftime lead over the first nine minutes of the second half and then saw it all but evaporate as the game went on.
Here is the game story and postgame videos of Ernie Kent, Dexter Kernich-Drew, DaVonté Lacy and Junior Longrus.
— I touched on Jordan Longrus' big hustle play to basically seal the win in the game story, in which he missed a free throw but bounded over to near the 3-point line to secure the rebound. The play knocked a few more seconds off the board and he made a good decision to get the ball in the hands of Ike Iroegbu, a 73 percent foul shooter.
Prior to that he made a more-important free throw to give the Cougars a four-point lead.
Kent refers to Longrus as "the loudest voice in the locker room" and, watching them interact it is clear his words and hustle have clearly garnered the respect of his teammates. To see that cinch a win for WSU seemed to mean a lot to the players.
— I've heard from a few different people close to the program that when Dexter Kernich-Drew first arrived on campus his coaches and teammates thought he was the one guy in the program with the best shot at a professional career because of shooting and athleticism.
I don't know that Kernich-Drew has played his way into a draft selection or anything, but he's probably made some money for himself somewhere with this late-season scoring bender.
Both the shooting and the athleticism were on display yesterday as he made his first five shots including four 3-pointers, and then had a gnarly dunk when he drove baseline.
As CougCenter's Jeff Nusser pointed out during the game, Kernich-Drew does appear to have altered his shot somewhat since last season and maybe that's the reason for his deft shooting.
He demurred when I asked him about it afterwards, saying he didn't make any conscious changes while acknowledging that he "probably gets up a lot more shots than I used to."
— Josh Hawkinson has tied the single-season school record for double-doubles. Hawkinson is a sophomore who barely played last year.
Here's some quotes that didn't make the game story:
Kent on USC's near-comeback: "To their credit with the way they play, their style of play, they just keep coming at you. They keep shooting the ball, they keep attacking you and it was very difficult to keep them at bay but I'm proud of my guys for getting their third road win."
Kernich-Drew on letting the lead slip away: "Learning to close out a game is something we've got to work on. We had a 20-point lead in the game; I kind of wanted to get the freshmen and guys that don't really play that much in because I used to be one of those guys that didn’t play much and sat on the bench."
Longrus on the play: "I think as players we all want to help our teams no matter what it is, whether hitting the free throw or getting the rebound."
It wasn't the blowout the Cougars would have liked but WSU will take a nail-biter as long as it’s a win.
With the win the Cougars have now doubled their Pac-12 win total from last season. We'll reflect more on the game later today, but for now we have a game story to pass along, as well as postgame videos of Ernie Kent, Dexter Kernich-Drew, DaVonté Lacy and Junior Longrus. Here are a couple more game wrap-ups.
In the paper today we also have our weekly outlook, focusing naturally on WSU's upcoming Sunday game against UCLA.
— Oregon's NCAA tournament resume got even stronger as it ended a seven-year losing streak to California.
— Court stormings can be fun, but are they a safety hazzard?
— Tony Parker and UCLA had an easy rout over a depleted Washington team.
— The Pac-12 blog ranks the conference's football coaching jobs.
Tonight at 7 p.m. the Cougars will take on USC in Los Angeles. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
The Trojans may seem like an easy opponent with only two conference wins to their name. But six of their 13 losses to Pac-12 teams have come by just five points or less and USC has played well lately, losing a pair of competitive games in Arizona last week and beating Oregon State the week before.
This week's press conference had a different feel as Ernie Kent spoke about a few of college basketball's current issues of the day. For one, he doesn't expect proposals to make freshmen ineligible to play to go anywhere.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …
— Washington will get to work replacing its best linebackers.
— Arizona's coach favors fines for court storming.
— Cal's Christian Behrens is already back from knee surgery.
— Colorado will get its voice back.
The Ducks will try to maintain their momentum after last week's big win.
— Oregon State's Dan Gomis will play with a broken nose.
— Stanford will try to turn the corner from a disappointing football season this spring.
— UCLA needs Tony Parker to reward the trust the Bruins are placing in him.
— Looking at USC's linebackers heading into spring.
The Cougars had a good game plan to take advantage of UW's lack of size and played well offensively. But Washington State didn't account Andrew Andrews' sensational day.
Andrews had 35 points including a deep 3-pointer to win the game. Here we have our story for the paper, final stats and postgame video of Ernie Kent and players. SportsPressNW has a story and here are a couple stories from the UW perspective.
That game was preceded by the WSU women's matchup against UW, which was basically a disaster.
Now for the links…
— Klay Thompson is developing some brand buzz.
— While the basketball teams were playing yesterday, Xavier Cooper ran the fastest time of any interior defensive lineman at the NFL combine.
— Rob Rang wrote that Cooper's performance could have him rocketing up draft boards.
— Oregon likely played its way into the NCAA tournament field with an upset of No. 9 Utah.
— Arizona State improved to .500 in Pac-12 play by rallying to beat USC. The Trojans were without a couple players that were sent home.