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Junior college center to play at WSU

While the football team was playing in Spokane, the Washington State basketball program picked up a potential difference-making big man.

Conor Clifford of Saddleback Junior College has chosen to accept a basketball scholarship from WSU over offers from South Carolina, West Virginia and Utah. Braulio Perez first reported the news of the decision by Clifford, who averaged 14.7 points and six rebounds a game.

Clifford fills an immediate need in WSU's frontcourt, which lost starting center Jordan Railey to graduation last season. He will join forward Josh Hawkinson, who averaged a double-double as a sophomore, and Houston transfer Valentine Izundu to give the Cougars as much skilled size as they've had in some time.

WSU is likely done recruiting for the class of 2015, which includes six players that will enroll in time for next season. A seventh, Jeff Pollard, will spend a year at the Impact Academy in Las Vegas before joining the Cougars.

Two basketball signees for WSU, with potentially more to come

The Washington State men's basketball program received letters of intent Wednesday morning from Charles Callison and Viont'e Daniels.

Coach Ernie Kent spoke to the media in the early afternoon and said that they, along with the three players that signed with Washington State during November's early signing period, possess skillsets that will allow the Cougars to better run Kent's system.

Daniels comes to WSU from Federal Way, where he led the FWHS Eagles to 27-2 overall record and was named the state's 4A Player of the Year by the Associated Press after averaging 24 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.

"I don't want to say he's come out of nowhere but I think he probably did shock the basketball world in terms of what he's been able to accomplish this year," Kent said. "What that tells you is he is somebody that's on the rise and I think he has a bright future ahead of him, and to be able to get a player of that kind of character and that type of talent out of one of the most respected programs over in that area, that's a feather in our cap, I believe.  I think when it's all said and done he has a chance to be a really special leader for us over here."

With Callison on board, the Cougars signed three junior college players in the class of 2015. With him they add a 6-foot, 180-pound point guard from San Bernardino Valley College who is expected to contribute immediately. Callison was named the Foothill Conference MVP after averaging 15.4 points, four assists and three boards per game while leading his team to a 29-2 record.

"We felt like we needed to strengthen our point guard position, we felt like we did that with Charles," Kent said. "He can play a couple different positions and, like Viont'e, I feel like he can play a couple different positions, he can move around from off-guard to point guard, back and forth. Charles is a lot more stronger, developed player coming into your program. He's a had a lot of success and I feel like he's a player that will step in right away and be a major factor."

The Cougars still have one scholarship available and Kent said that he hopes WSU will be able to land a post player. For now, Callison and Daniels join Derrien King, Robert Frank and Renard Suggs to form WSU's incoming recruiting class.

WSU also signed forward Jeff Pollard in November, but Kent confirmed on Wednesday that the Bountiful, Utah forward will delay his enrollment by a year to spend next season getting stronger and developing his game at the Impact Academy in Las Vegas.

Here are some highlights from Kent's interview:
  

(Will these guys be able to replace the outside shooting you lose with the graduations of DaVonté Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew?)

Yes, I think one thing our team next year – one thing I noticed is we have guys that are skilled and can shoot. Both of these players, along with the players we signed earlier, their skillset is really good. When you look at our team next year, I think people saw where Ike Iroegbu started really coming on strong, athletic, fast, really started to define his game.

Que Johnson, I think everybody knows he can score. He can really shoot the basketball. Brett Boese, I think everybody knows he can really shoot the basketball and then you saw what Josh (Hawkinson) is able to do it terms of his skillset. Along with that, now, we bring in a guard in Daniels who has a tremendous skillset: scoring, shooting, he can run. Charles Callison's another shooter that's big and strong. Darrien King can really score the basketball, he's got great length. Renard Suggs, he's a 3-point shooter with a tremendous feel for the game. And then Robert Franks, he's really skilled at that position, also, one of the toughest positions for us to find in terms of his versatility. And then you throw Jeff Pollard in, also, who has a strong basketball IQ, a very skilled basketball player. And yet, he's going to go to Impact Academy in Las Vegas for a year so he comes in the door bigger, stronger, more skilled so he has a chance to play really an extra year of high school basketball.

I just felt like with DaVonté leaving, with Dex leaving, we needed to continue to get scoring and shooting with the way we paly. I feel like we have a chance to be faster next year, we'll be deeper and I feel really good about the direction we're headed.

We still have one scholarship left. We're actively recruiting that and will continue to do that. It's very important scholarship because we want to get more size in the program.

(Does either guard bring the ability to change the game's tempo off the bench?)

I think after having a year of implementing our system, what I've already noticed about our team, for sure this offseason, we are so much faster across the board. Guys are making more plays because they're used to playing at that tempo.

Viont'e and Callison are both speed guys with the ball. They can get out and run, they can see plays, they can make plays. I feel like with Suggs and King, Callison and Daniels, we just got a lot faster and their skillset's better. Nothing against Trevor (Dunbar) or Jackie (Davis), but (them leaving) gave us a chance to get a little big deeper, a little big bigger, a little bit stronger.

(What do they bring defensively?)

… They're both excellent on-ball defenders, where they can handle their guy. Now,  Viont'e's got to get bigger and stronger, Callison's already there. I think Ike's going to be an improved defensive player, too, and King is long and athletic. We'll be built differently next year with Valentine (Izundu) becoming eligible to play and the next piece we're bringing in with some size. We feel like we got better and are moving in the right direction with all of these guys bringing skill, not only on the offensive side but on the defensive side as well.

(What are you expecting from the three junior college players?)

A couple of things. Number one, sometimes when people think Juco, they think bad academics, and that's not always the case, obviously. We make sure that we have strong academic personnel that can handle the academic rigor and will graduate from Washington State. Number two, we want them more ready to go, more ready to handle stuff at this level because they've already played two years and been away from home, been starters, hit big shots in big games, their teams have had some success along the way against really good competition. All those factors factor into it. So, when you find a junior college player they've got to be able to come in the door and help the program right away. Otherwise, there would be no point in going that route.

Junior college point guard wants to keep winning at WSU

Charles Callison won 31 games this season at San Bernardino Valley College this past season. He'll try to keep the good mojo flowing at WSU next season.

Callison, a point guard, was named the Foothill Conference Player of the Year after averaging 15.4 points, four assists and three rebounds per game. Next year he'll be a Pac-12 basketball player, telling Cougfan.com that he plan on signing with the Cougars on April 15.

Because he's a junior college transfer, Callison will be expected to play right away for the Cougars. While freshman point guard Ny Redding started much of the season, late in the year Ernie Kent turned to Ike Iroegbu at that spot, although he seemed to have some reservations about taking Iroegbu out of his off-ball role.

If Callison can take care of the ball and allow Kent to keep Iroegbu at shooting guard, it seems like he'd have a good shot at starting next season.

The only tape of Callison I found is from his 2011-12 high school basketball season, but it gives you a sense of his game:

  

Viont’e Daniels commits to play at WSU

Federal Way's Viont'e Daniels has accepted a scholarship offer from Ernie Kent to play basketball at Washington State.

Daniels, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard, chose the Cougars over Saint Mary's.

"His parents are really academically oriented and Saint Mary's is a quality education but at the end of the day WSU was his first choice and he jumped right on it," said FWHS coach Jerome Collins.

Collins said that Daniels is an adept student and carries a 3.5 grade-point average. He added that Collins is a good shooter out to the 3-point line, and shoot well off the dribble already, and sports a quick release.

"He averaged right at that 22-23 points a game range but he didn't have to go out and shoot 20 shots a game to get it," Collins said. "His 3-point percentage was very high, he's very unselfish and he's going to give a lot to Ernie and his program."

Collins admitted that he may have helped sell the school to Daniels, since his daughter graduated from WSU. Both coach and player were drawn to Kent, as well.

"Talking with coach Kent we share a lot of the same philosophical beliefs with regards to the classroom and proper role modeling in the community," Collins said. "We believe in the defense end of the floor and running. It was a tremendous fit for Viont'e and he felt really comfortable with coach Ernie."

Daniels averaged 24 points, six rebounds and four assists per game for the top-ranked Eagles and was named the Tacoma News Tribune's 4A Player of the Year, the Associated Press 4A Player of the Year and the Seattle Times 4A Player of the Year. This profile of Daniels by TJ Cotterill of the TNT is worth your time.

Before he arrives at WSU, Daniels says he would like to add some muscle and reach out to his future teammates to find out how best to prepare to play in the Pac-12.

"I would like to add my strength and just learn more about the game between college and high school, it's very different," Daniels said. "Watch a lot of film and talk to the players that are there now and see what I can learn from them."

The Cougars now have one or two remaining scholarships to offer in this recruiting cycle, depending on whether or not recruit Jeff Pollard ends up attending prep school for a season before enrolling at WSU. 

All-Academic honors for a pair of Cougars

Josh Hawkinson and Junior Longrus have both been named to the Pac-12's All-Academic second team.

It is the second postseason honor for Josh Hawkinson, who was named the conference's Most Improved Player after increasing his scoring by 13.5 points per game over last year, the second biggest improvement among all players nationally.

Longrus was a starter in 11 games and a key reserve in the others, averaging 11.7 points per game and playing a key role in the team's win at USC.

Longrus, a junior, earned a 3.30 grade-point average as a management and operations major. Hawkinson, a sophomore, has not yet declared a major and earned a 3.24 GPA.

Morning links: Arizona vs. Oregon for the Pac-12 tournament championship

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.

Afternoon links: WSU’s season ends in Las Vegas

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.

WSU falls to Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament’s first round

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."

WSU locker room interviews

Locker rooms interviews.

DaVonte Lacy:

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.

Que Johnson:

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.

Brett Boese:

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.

Ike Iroegbu:

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 Pac-12 tournament postgame press conference

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.

Lacy First-Team All-Conference; Hawkinson Most Improved Player

The Pac-12 announced its All-Conference teams and awards on Monday morning and two Washington State players were recognized.

Senior guard DaVonté Lacy was named First-Team All-Pac-12 and Josh Hawkinson was named the conference's Most Improved Player.

Despite being the only player in the conference to average a double-double, Hawkinson, a sophomore, was only named All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

The conference coaches voted Oregon's Joseph Young  Player of the Year and named UO coach Dana Altman Coach of the Year after the pair guided the Ducks to a No. 2 finish after a preseason ranking of 8th in the Pac-12 media poll. Arizona's Stanley Johnson was named Freshman of the Year while Oregon State guard Gary Payton II was named Defensive Player of the Year, an award his father won for the Beavers in 1987.

Lacy, a native of Tacoma, Washington, became WSU's all-time 3-point leader this season, passing Klay Thompson and finishing the regular-season with 249 3-pointers thus far in his career. 

Lacy is averaging 17.2 points per game, fourth in the conference, and also ranks in the top-five in made free throws (No. 2, 140), 3-pointers made per game (No. 4, 3.3) and he ranks 10th with a free-throw percentage of .773.

Hawkinson was an obvious choice for Most Improved Player – his points per game improvement of 13.5 is the second-most nationally his improvement in rebounds per game – 9.2 more than last season – is greater than that of any other player. Hawkinson is currently tied with Ed Werner for the school's single-season rebounding record of 323 and has set the school single-season record for double-doubles with 19.

Brock Motum became the school's first Most Improved Player award-winner in 2012. That year was also the last time the Cougars placed someone on the conference's First Team until Lacy became the 19th individual WSU player to do so this season. His selection this season marks the 23rd time a player from WSU has earned the honor.

The Pac-12 media release with the full All-Conference teams and awards list is below:

2014-15 Pac-12 Conference Men's Basketball Honors
SAN FRANCISCO – In a vote of the 12 Conference coaches, OREGON senior guard Joseph Young has been named the 2014-15 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Player of the Year; ARIZONA forward Stanley Johnson was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year; OREGON STATE junior guard Gary Payton II has been named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year; WASHINGTON STATE sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson has been named Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year; and Dana Altman of OREGON is the John R. Wooden Coach of the Year, Commissioner Larry Scott announced today.
The Complete Conference Honors:
ALL-PAC-12
Name School Pos. Year Ht. Wt. Hometown (Last School)
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Arizona F So. 6-7 215 Chester, Pa. (Chester HS)
Stanley Johnson Arizona F Fr. 6-6 225 Fullerton, Calif. (Mater Dei HS)
DaVonté Lacy Washington State G Sr. 6-4 215 Tacoma, Wash. (Curtis HS)
T.J. McConnell Arizona G Sr. 6-1 195 Pittsburgh, Pa. (Duquesne)
Gary Payton II Oregon State G Jr. 6-3 174 Las Vegas, Nev. (Salt Lake CC)
Norman Powell UCLA G Sr. 6-4 215 San Diego, Calif. (Lincoln HS)
Chasson Randle Stanford G Sr. 6-2 185 Rock Island, Ill. (Rock Island HS)
Tyrone Wallace California G Jr. 6-5 200 Bakersfield, Calif. (Bakersfield HS)
Delon Wright Utah G Sr. 6-5 178 Lawndale, Calif. (City College of San Francisco)
Joseph Young Oregon G Sr. 6-2 185 Houston, Texas (Houston)
SECOND TEAM
Name School Pos. Year Ht. Wt. Hometown (Last School)
Askia Booker Colorado G Sr. 6-2 175 Los Angeles, Calif. (Price HS)
Elgin Cook Oregon F Jr. 6-6 206 Milwaukee, Wis. (Northwest Florida State)
Kevon Looney UCLA F Fr. 6-9 220 Milwaukee, Wis. (Hamilton HS)
Brandon Taylor Utah G Jr. 5-10 165 Los Angeles, Calif. (Pacific Hills HS)
Nigel Williams-Goss Washington G So. 6-3 185 Happy Valley, Ore. (Findlay Prep (Nev.)
Honorable Mention (receiving at least three votes): Bryce Alford (UCLA, So., G), Brandon Ashley (ARIZ, Jr., F), Anthony Brown (STAN, Sr., F), Josh Hawkinson (WSU, So., F), Shaquielle McKissic (ASU, Sr., F), Stefan Nastic (STAN, Sr., C)
ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM
Name School Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown (Last School)
Jordan Bell Oregon F 6-9 190 Long Beach, Calif. (Long Beach Poly HS)
Dillon Brooks Oregon F 6-5 205 Mississauga, Ont. (Findlay Prep)
Tra Holder Arizona State G 6-1 180 Los Angeles, Calif. (Brentwood School)
Stanley Johnson Arizona F 6-6 225 Fullerton, Calif. (Mater Dei HS)
Kevon Looney UCLA F 6-9 220 Milwaukee, Wis. (Hamilton HS)
Jordan McLaughlin USC G 6-1 170 Etiwanda, Calif. (Etiwanda HS)
Jakob Poeltl Utah F 7-0 230 Vienna, Austria (Arkadia Traiskirchen)
ALL-DEFENSIVE TEAM
Name School Pos. Year Ht. Wt. Hometown (Last School)
Jordan Bell Oregon F Fr. 6-9 190 Long Beach, Calif. (Long Beach Poly HS)
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Arizona F So. 6-7 215 Chester, Pa. (Chester HS)
T.J. McConnell Arizona G Sr. 6-1 195 Pittsburgh, Pa. (Duquesne)
Gary Payton II Oregon State G Jr. 6-3 175 Las Vegas, Nev. (Salt Lake CC)
Delon Wright Utah G Sr. 6-5 178 Los Angeles, Calif. (City College of San Francisco)
Honorable Mention (receiving at least three votes): Shaquielle McKissic (ASU, Sr., F), Norman Powell (UCLA, Sr., G), Brandon Taylor (Utah, Jr., G)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Joseph Young, Oregon
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gary Payton II, Oregon State
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
JOHN R. WOODEN COACH OF THE YEAR: Dana Altman, Oregon
PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR
YOUNG is Oregon’s fourth Player of the Year, joining the likes of former Duck guards Ron Lee (1975-76), Terrell Brandon 1990-91), and Luke Ridnour (2002-03) with his honor. The senior guard from Houston, Texas, averaged 19.8 points and 3.7 assists through the regular season, leading Oregon to a 23-8 overall record and a 13-5 mark in Pac-12 play that landed the Ducks in a second-place tie. Young also paced the league in free throw percentage (.918) and three-point field goals made per game (2.5). In two seasons at Oregon, Young scored 1,257 points. Only Terrell Brandon scored more during a two-year period with 1,263 points. Combining his two seasons at Houston, Young has scored 2,173 points in his college career. 
PAC-12 FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
JOHNSON makes it back-to-back Freshman of the Year accolades for the Wildcats as he follows last year’s recipient Aaron Gordon. He’s the fourth Wildcat to earn the honor in the last nine years, and the eighth overall since the award’s inception fol-lowing the 1978-79. He averaged a team-leading 13.9 points, which was most among all Pac-12 freshmen, and 6.6 rebounds per game. A finalist for the Tisdale Award, honoring the nation’s top freshman, Johnson also finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 in the Conference in steals per game (fifth, 1.5 spg).
PAC-12 DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
PAYTON II is the third Beaver to be voted Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, joining his father Gary Payton (1986-87) and Seth Tarver (2009-10). After the older Payton won the honor in 1987, the league discontinued the award until it was reinstated in 2008. The junior finished the regular season with a league-leading 92 steals (3.1 spg). His 92 thefts are fifth-most in a single season in Pac-12 history and only trails his father’s school record 100 steals set in 1990. Payton was key in leading the Beavers’ defense, allowing just 58.5 ppg, which ranked second in the Pac-12. 
PAC-12 MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR
HAWKINSON becomes the second Cougar (also, Brock Motum in 2011-12) to receive the Most Improved Player of the Year award. After averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game during his freshman season, Hawkinson exceeded all expectations as he averaged 14.7 points and a league-leading 10.8 rebounds. He grabbed a school single-season record 19 double-doubles, passing Jim McKean’s record of 17 in 1967. He also etched his name in the WSU record book as he grabbed a single-season record-tying 323 rebounds. His 19 double-doubles currently ranks fifth among Division I players.
PAC-12 JOHN R. WOODEN COACH OF THE YEAR
ALTMAN guided Oregon to a tie for a second-place finish in the Pac-12 race after being picked to finish eight by the media in the annual preseason Pac-12 Men’s Basketball poll. Oregon posted a final record of 23-8 overall and 13-5 in Pac-12. Under Altman, the Ducks have posted 20 or more wins in a school-record five consecutive seasons. Altman’s career record stands at 530-298 over his 26 seasons of head coaching, including a 120-55 record in five seasons at Oregon. He now has 18 consecutive winning seasons as a head coach (13 at Creighton, 5 at Oregon). Only six other active coaches in Division I can stake that claim – Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Bill Self (Kansas), Jim Boeheim (Sy-racuse) and Stew Morrill (Utah State). It’s the second time in three seasons that Altman has been honored as the league’s Coach of the Year, and the fourth time an Oregon coach has earned the distinction – Altman (2015, 2013), Ernie Kent (2002), and Dick Harter (1977).
THE VOTE: Coach of the Year, All-Conference, All-Freshman, All-Defensive teams and Most Improved Player are voted on by
the coaches. Coaches are not permitted to vote for themselves or their own players for the honors.

Looking back at Colorado

Washington State is unlikely to end its season on a winning streak but the Cougars finished their home schedule on a high note.

Like they had in recent games against Washington, UCLA and Utah the Cougars saw a late lead evaporate. Unlike those games, however, they took it back, forcing overtime when DaVonté Lacy's step-back jumper bounced off the rim and into the basket, and never trailing again.

We covered the game with this story in the paper and postgame videos of Ernie Kent and some players.

And here is our day-after post:

— Josh Hawkinson played one of the great halves of college basketball I've seen, and it was because Ike Iroegbu played such a great half. Iroegbu, who I've been told has possibly the highest vertical jump on the team and is certainly its quickest player, jitterbugged his way through Colorado's defense over and over in the first half and when the Buffalos defenders finally caught up to him, he'd already slipped the ball to Hawkinson.

The sophomore connection was automatic and Hawkinson finished almost everything. In fact he missed just 1 of his 10 first-half attempts. The strategy worked throughout the first half, but CU adjusted at halftime and the chess match began.

In the second half Colorado began switching screens to keep the Cougars from driving, and it was a pretty effective strategy. Hawkinson was limited to just one shot attempt in the second half and it came off his own offensive rebound.

The Cougars countered by screening wings in the corners and having them curl around the perimeter for 3-pointers, occasionally having one wing make the initial action while another ran baseline and then followed the first wing off the same screen. A couple times they even had a third guard follow the shooters off the screen.

But WSU only made two second-half 3-pointers and when Que Johnson received a pass at the top of the arc he drove and was called for a charge, drawing the ire of Dexter Kernich-Drew who had flared out to the opposite wing and was wide open for an outside shot. CU's defensive adjustment ended up working and it really affected WSU's guards as Iroegbu made just 1 of 8 second-half attempts and Lacy made only 2 of 8.

— The Cougars finished with seven Pac-12 wins and left a few more on the table by losing leads late in games. In fact, WSU has held moderate or better leads in the second halves of each of the last five games and given them up each time. WSU won two of those games but still struggled to keep their opponents underfoot, letting a 19-point second-half lead dwindle to three points at USC and letting CU retake the lead before forcing overtime and eventually winning.

Kent is taking the optimist's view that the improved Cougars are at least competitive in games that would have been sizable losses earlier in the season and says WSU is learning how to play with a lead.

"The beauty of it is, for us to have this conversation they've done a lot of growing up and a lot of things right to put themselves in position to close the game," Kent said. "And now they're still figuring that out. Remember now, this is all new to this team: the wins, this level of play, enough guys on their A-game, the shooting, the confidence, the close games."

 

Here are some notes from yesterday's game:

— Josh Hawkinson (21 points, 10 rebounds) extended his WSU single-season record with his 19th double-double.

— Ike Iroegbu (18 points, 11 assists) had the first double-double of his career. He also set a career-high for assists.

— Six Cougars scored in double figures for the first time this season.

— DaVonté Lacy scored 17 points and passed Brock Motum for fifth on WSU's all-time scoring list. Lacy has 1,539 career points, 24 points away from Don Collins (1977-80) in fourth place.

Quotes:

Lacy on Colorado's Tre'Shaun Fletcher: "We grew up in the same program and we would battle since I was in 6th grade and he was in 5th. I actually tried to recruit him here and he took a visit. We have a good relationship."

Lacy on his game-tying shot: " I don't know if that 's what (fans will) remember me for but I knew I was going to take it. Coach drew up a play and said that I had enough time to use a ball-screen and we didn't use the ball-screen and I just created."

Iroegbu on he and Hawkinson's big nights: " Coach Kent was … was like, even thought it's senior night we underclassmen have to step up and we can't let the seniors lose their last home game at Beasley. I took that to heart and just made it a point to play well for DaVonte, for Jordan and for Dex. "

Hawkinson on Askia Booker's three-quarter court heave to end regulation: "I honestly thought it was going in. I definitely did not want it to end like that, especially for the seniors. I thought it was good and I'm glad it wasn’t."

Video: Ernie Kent after Colorado


  

ERNIE KENT

I thought it was an outstanding college basketball game, I really did. What Utah and Colorado did to us the first time around, I think it shows a tremendous growth in this program because we've played everybody tough. We've won or we've been right there to close out a game, we haven't always closed them out but we've been there with the exception of Arizona and we only played them one time.

I feel like this team has figured out how to play and defense is our destiny, although Booker lit us up tonight and got away from us. But the three seniors were tremendous this year and to be able to lead us like they did and have they games they did.

Jordan grew up this year and everything he's been through as a student-athlete, for him to perform and he's been outstanding down the stretch. Dexter just coming of age, been a perfect gentleman on and off the floor. And DaVonte Lacy is somebody who stayed and helped turn the school around, which was huge. They did a tremendous job of showing the younger guys what it takes to be successful. The leadership of this team is going to be excellent because they have excellent leaders going out the door.

Ike Iroegbu, his numbers tonight, just incredible to not let those seniors lose. Josh Hawkinson, 21 and 10, just incredible. Junior Longrus, those are your leaders next year. All of those guys performed and they responded to the challenge of seniors lead us, underclassmen don't let them lose and let the torch be passed for us to close out a game here. Que was good, Que Johnson, so they all did what they needed to do and to have six guys in double-figures and 50 percent from the field, 50 from the 3-point line and 85 percent at the free-throw line, I think it's a great indication of what our system can do when everybody is on their A-game. It's beautiful to watch and I was proud of how they hung in there and pulled it out in overtime.

(Was it meaningful to watch the seniors take over in overtime?)

I don't know if (the underclassmen) carried them through but they did the job of fighting to not let them lose. Because DaVonté hit the bucket to send it to overtime – he hit some big buckets in the game – but I thought for Dex to hit the 3, DaVonté to hit the 3 and Jordan score to open it up, that was huge. That was senior leadership and you're right, it got us over the hurdle so that's what I meant by both groups did their part. The underclassmen did their part, the seniors did their part, particularly in the overtime.

(How did Colorado make it more difficult for Iroegbu to get Hawkinson easy buckets in the second half?)

They started switching the ball screen. The first half we felt like we could attack Josh (Scott) because he's coming off some injuries and things and I thought our quickness really bothered him and running that high-post ball screen with some shooters on the floor.

They made some adjustments where they switched it, kind of took it away from us and we had to go some other places to get some plays done. But I thought Ike, his decision-making, his energy was terrific in the game and for those two guys to work together, we ran that action for as long as we could run it and they were excellent at making right reads at the right time and a lot of that had to do with Ike.

(Was there more Hawkinson could have done to take advantage of having a guard defending him?)

No, Josh does a great job of playing in space. Where we actually countered it was using two bigs to screen the wings, you saw a lot of action coming out of the corners with shooters coming out.

One shooter comes up, another shooter comes up, and on occasion a third shooter coming out of that corner, too, so that's how we countered because we put Josh in another situation they had to guard, and their bigs had to guard those shooters off screens and everything and I thought we did a good job of executing that.

(Did you tell your players not to foul immediately when they were able to force a jump-ball?)

We told them to go for the steal, is the first thing you need to do and if you can't get the steal—they're thinking a hit's going to come—to tie the ball up and we had the next possession. And sure enough, instead of putting the ball on the floor where you have to foul, they bend over thinking the hit's going to come, we get our hands on it, tie it up and get another look at it.

(How nice is it to win a close game?)

You know we were close at Cal on the road, we beat them; Washington on the road, we beat them, Oregon at home, 108 points, we beat them; Arizona State was a close one, we beat them. They came at different times, we felt like we felt the two Oregon state games get away. And then certainly we felt like we let UCLA get away on the road, we played really, really well and let it get away. The beauty of it is, for us to have this conversation they've done a lot of growing up and a lot of things right to put themselves in position to close the game. And now they're still figuring that out. Remember now, this is all new to this team: the wins, this level of play, enough guys on their A-game, the shooting, the confidence, the close games. So they're just continuing to learn and grow so we felt like all eyar long there were some teams in the conference that had given us their best look. Utah, Colorado, Arizona, UCLA, but we felt like we had enormous growth potential and that's why we stayed with them and stayed positive and kept bringing them back, bringing them back, because they're still growing up and what you saw tonight was everybody was kind of on their A-game. Everybody brought their offense and we're very difficult to handle when we do that.

(Did you see the defense you liked against Utah carry over?)

I thought our defense has been good against USC, against UCLA and against Utah. You had some bigtime players, (Askia) Book and (Josh) Scott, are really good. They just got away from us tonight but for the most part we played them so much better than the first time. We didn't defend them, we didn't play tough, we weren't physical, we didn't have confidence. We just didn't do a lot of things right.

So I don't look at it as defense, I look at it as we're a different basketball team now. We're more confident, we can throw more bodies at your. We can get stops at times and certainly we got some big stops (in overtime).
  

(How do you keep this momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament?)

Everybody is 0-0, and I've said all-year-long that I wish we could start the season over knowing what we know now. I wish this team could go back and have everybody else play our preseason schedule and get their confidence and get the wins. This team had probably the third or fourth-toughest preseason schedule and you had to go through those lumps.

Then we open up conference on the road. There's a lot to have to withstand. Now you're going down to Vegas and everybody is 0-0 and we want to fight down there to give ourselves an opportunity to just get to the next game. It's just get to the next game and that's what we're going to do.

WSU to face Cal in Pac-12 tournament

Washington State earned a 9-seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament and a noon matchup on Wednesday against 8-seeded California.

The Cougars split their matchups with the Golden Bears this season, winning 69-66 in Berkeley but falling 76-67 in Pullman. The winner of that game will face No. 1 Arizona, which beat WSU 86-59 in the teams' only contest this season.

Top-seeded Arizona, second-seeded Oregon, third-seeded Utah and fourth-seeded UCLA all have first-round byes. The Utes gave up a two-seed by losing to 11th-seeded Washington on Saturday.

The Huskies will face Stanford on Wednesday for the right to a rematch against the Utes while USC and Arizona State will play to face UCLA on Thursday and 10th-seeded Colorado will take on 7-seed Oregon State with the winner playing the Ducks.

All the matchups and times are available here.

Looking back at the Utah game

In the end Washington State couldn't spring the upset over No. 13 Utah, falling late in the game, similar to last week's loss at UCLA.

Unlike that game, when the Bruins simply overpowered the smaller Cougars in the second half, in this contest the Utes – No. 9 in the country in field goal percentage – made a number of difficult shots to pull away in a game that was initially a defensive struggle.

Here is our story from the game, final stats and a postgame video of Ernie Kent speaking to the media about the game.

Also, yesterday, Lia Galdeira scored 34 points to lead the WSU women to a win in their Pac-12 Tournament matchup against Oregon.

— WSU looked like it might be pulling away about seven minutes into the second half, going ahead by eight points and clearly being the more aggressive team. The Cougars got to the free throw line often during that stretch, although they didn't always make their freebies.

But it's not hard to see how Utah got back into the game and eventually took control: The Utes made 8 of 12 3-point attempts in the second half. That onslaught was kind of a mixed bag for the Cougars; WSU's defenders allowed a couple open looks when players lost sight of their men, who were able to run to spots and spot-up for an open shot, but many of Utah's biggest shots were well-contested. DaVonté Lacy and Junior Longrus each had good closeouts only to have the shots go in anyways.

Utah has three regular players that shoot 43 percent or better from behind the arc and they had a good shooting half, there wasn't a lot more the Cougars could do to stop them.

— That said, the Cougars sure would have helped their cause by playing a little smarter. Freshman Ny Redding isn't immune to the freshman wall that seems to be hitting all the first-year players right now – Utah's Jakob Poeltl had zero shots and four fouls in 17 minutes – and played most of the game in a fog.

One turnover came when Redding dribbled out the shot clock well past the 3-point line and it came after the Cougars had the ball out of bound. Other times WSU had a play to make on offense and simply didn't make the pass or cut that would have led to easy points.

Ernie Kent was adamant after the last two games that WSU would have won each of them if they'd made the plays easily available to them and was lamented last night that the Cougars aren't currently riding a three-game win streak that includes wins at UCLA and against a top-15 team.

Some notes from the game:

— Lacy blocked a shot for just the 14th time in his career.

— Lacy has 1,522 career points, just eight points shy of Brock Motum for fifth-place on WSU's all-time scoring list.

— Ike Iroegbu dished out a career-high seven assists for the second consecutive game.

And a couple quotes:

Jordan Railey on only playing three minutes in the second half: "I think my stupid fouls kind of hurt us. I don't think they had any answer for me or josh in the post and I have to play smarter. As far as what they did, I don't think they did anything different."

Kent on the last two weeks: "People continue to ask how this team's going to bounce back I thought we had just a terrific three-game stretch because we've gotten better, particularly defensively."

Ernie Kent Q&A: underclassmen taking the reins

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.

Looking back at USC

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."

WSU to be featured on “The Drive” tomorrow

The WSU men's basketball team will be featured on "The Drive," the Pac-12's weekly behind-the-scenes documentary show.

Here is the release from the school:
  

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – Washington State University men’s basketball will be featured on this week’s episode of The Pac-12 Networks’ ‘The Drive: Pac-12 Basketball, Presented by 5-hour ENERGY’, which will premiere, Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. PT. The show will air immediately following WSU’s game at USC, which starts at 7 p.m. PT, also on the Pac-12 Networks. 
 
This is the first season of the basketball version of the original all-access documentary franchise The Drive and the fifth of eight episodes. Washington State’s episode will also feature Oregon, as the first six weeks follow two teams in each 30-minute episode. 
 
Different from other episodes of The Drive this season, WSU is was followed for an entire week, beginning with Tuesday, Feb. 3 up until the Cougars’ game against the Ducks in Eugene, Sunday, Feb. 8. Cougar fans will get to see an array of behind-the-scenes footage, including head coach Ernie Kent as he works out, team practice, the team traveling to Oregon and Coach Kent’s pregame locker room speeches at both Oregon State and Oregon. Senior guard DaVonté Lacy is also featured on the episode, which highlights the culture change around Cougar basketball in Kent’s first year as head coach. 
 
If fans miss the first showing, some alternate air times include; Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 11:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26 at 3:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 27 at 2 a.m., 6:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28 at 9:30 a.m., 7 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., and Sunday at 11:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., along many more airings. Go to http://pac-12.com/tv-listings/pac-12-network for more air times. The episode will also be available at http://pac-12.com/shows/the-drive-pac-12-basketball.
 
Senior Coordinating Producer Michael Tolajian leads the production team along with Emmy Award-winning producer Jim Jorden. 
 
The final team-following episode premieres next week, Wednesday, March 4, before two episodes following the Pac-12 Tournament air back-to-back, Wednesday, March 18.