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I finally made it out to Martin Stadium to watch the Cougars in their third spring football practice and saw an impressive stand by the defense.
While the offense appeared to have the upper hand for most of practice (more on that in a bit), the defense rallied around booming defensive line coach Joe Salave'a's cries of "fourth quarter!" and forced a tie of 23 points apiece with one play to go from just a couple yards away from the end zone.
Quarterback Luke Falk thought he found a receiver in the end zone, but linebacker Jeremiah Allison tipped the ball high in the air and snagged it like a centerfielder, completing the defense's comeback and forcing the offense to do up-downs.
Here's what else I saw at practice:
— The starting team offensive line from last season returns intact and from left to right still goes: Joe Dahl, Gunnar Eklund, Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton, Cole Madison. While the receivers sub liberally, it appears that if a game were played today the starters would be Dom Williams and Calvin Green on the outside, with Gabe Marks and Tyler Baker inside.
— There is obviously plenty of time for that to change, however, and those starters are influenced in part by the players that were limited during today's practice. Nick Begg, Brett Bartolone, Nate DeRider, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, River Cracraft and Frankie Luvu all wore the yellow jerseys today, and I expect Barber and Cracraft will continue to throughout the spring.
— Alex Grinch wasn't lying about running a base nickel defense. The Cougars spent all practice in nickel with Darius Lemora appearing to take over as the starting nickel back. That left Allison and Peyton Pelluer as the starting linebackers, Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White as the starting cornerbacks and Daniel Ekuale, Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao on the defensive line.
Kache Palacio was the starting Rush linebacker, which is similar to last year's Buck position except Palacio began far fewer snaps with his hand on the ground.
— Based on seeing him this one time, it looks like Clemson transfer will be one of WSU's better receivers next year. Shame that he won't be playing. Priest will have to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules but he should give the starting defense fits as a member of scout team. From what I saw, he runs very good routes and runs the quickly, has good ability in the open field and has good hands. In fact, I only saw him drop one pass …
— Priester dropped a pass because he was leveled by David Bucannon, little brother of Deone. The younger Bucannon had one of his best practices I've seen, laying a couple big hits and generally making his presence felt. In fact, I'm pretty sure Priester dropped the pass before Bucannon's hit because he knew it was coming. Bucannon, a redshirt junior, hasn't played much for the Cougars but appears to be taking full advantage of the "clean slate" given by a new defensive coordinator.
— Dom Williams also had a good day at receiver, and it looked like he's gotten a little better at contorting his body with the ball in the air to adjust to its flight path since last season.
— Robert Lewis really looks like he's coming into his own. Between the drills, skeleton drills and team period, he probably had more catches than anyone on the day. His most impressive came when he stopped in his tracks on a comeback route, sending Bucannon sprinting past him and opening himself up for an easy grab.
— Gabe Marks was solid as well – he ripped off a nice run during team period – but it was an otherwise pedestrian day for the receivers. The new crop of walk-ons, some of whom may not have played football for a year or more, could use some Stickum.
— A couple former Cougars at practice today. One was Xavier Cooper, who is preparing for the NFL draft. He's been very productive since the season's end and has season his stock rise rather quickly. We chatted for awhile toward the end of practice and he told me that NFL teams are telling him they expect him to be drafted as early as the late first round and not later than the early-to-mid third round.
Also dropping by practice was cornerback Daquawn Brown, who was dismissed for violating team rules after the season. While Brown had no contact with the coaches, he spent most of his time shouting encouragement to the defensive backs – OK, he also taunted the receivers a bit as well.
People close to the program told us and other outlets when he was dismissed that the Cougars did not intend to provide an avenue for him to return to the team, but situations can obviously change and if there was a way to get back in good standing with the team, showing up at practice can't hurt.
— The kick returners on Tuesday were Jamal Morrow, Gabe Marks and Marcellus Pippins.
— Now, for the quarterbacks. Falk and Peyton Bender split reps pretty evenly, although Falk spent a little more time with the first string offensive line, for what that's worth. Falk is clearly ahead and it's because of his command of the offense. There are times it seems like Bender throws a little better ball or pulls out a nice move, but he also throws the ball to the wrong spot or makes a bad read, occasionally. Falk almost never does either, at least in practice.
Falk also ripped off about a 30 yard run when he saw that the defense vacated the left side of the field on a passing play.
In the first skeleton drill, Falk completed 10 of 12 passes with the two incompletions coming on drops. Doesn't get much better. Bender missed his first pass and then completed the next 10, finishing 12 of 14.
During team period Bender went first and his first pass was tipped by Greg Hoyd III. I had him finishing 9 of 13. He threw a bad interception to Charleston White – it went right at the DB – but responded well by throwing a touchdown to Calvin Green on the next play. He also had a touchdown pass up against the goal line to Gabe Marks.
I had Falk finishing 8 of 12 with Gerard Wicks scoring on a seven-yard touchdown run. Lemora made a nice play in the slot from his new position, sticking with speedy Robert Lewis to break up a pass.
— The Cougars will practice again at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The public is welcome to attend, and come say "hi" if you see me.
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.
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.
Cornerback Sebastian LaRue, expected to compete for a starting spot on next year's team, was dismissed from the Washington State football program for violating a team rule.
While we don't know the nature of the violation, coach Mike Leach has three often-cited rules that are grounds for immediate dismissal if broken: Don't steal, don't hit women and don't do drugs. Any time a player is dismissed, we take a look at the local court records. These are publicly available online but those records do not describe the nature of any offenses, just the names, dates and case numbers.
I wanted to mention that because the search for LaRue's name yielded a pair of March results, which I followed up with a public records request. Because neither offense violated any of Leach's cardinal rules, and neither were violent, I believe it's appropriate to address them here.
LaRue was pulled over early this month for speeding with a headlight out and was pulled over again, just a couple days ago, for speeding. That's all, and neither would likely be cause for any discipline from Leach or even attract his attention.
It's still possible that LaRue was dismissed for committing some crime or other, and the coaching staff obviously considers whatever he did to be serious. But the offenses that pop up during an online records search are not malicious, and I thought it was worth nipping any potential speculation on them in the bud.
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.
I'm about to hop on a plane so I wont be transcribing coach Mike Leach's entire teleconference, but I've jotted down the highlights:
— Leach confirmed that Sebastian LaRue, Jordan Dascalo and Wes Concepcion are no longer on the team. LaRue's departure leaves an already thin secondary a little thinner, and Dascalo and Concepcion were the only two punters listed on the roster, so that will be something to watch this spring.
— Leach said that while he would ideally like to start spring practice a little earlier, he doesn't want to break the schedule up to accommodate spring break.
— He heaped praise on Luke Falk for his performance last year, calling his play "… as impressive as any freshman I've ever dealt with" and saying that, "Luke's five games as a freshman are probably better than any freshman in history."
That being said, he said that Falk will split first-team reps with redshirt freshman Peyton Bender and that Falk isn't necessarily the presumed starter.
— I asked him a bit about Alex Grinch and what the new defensive coordinator should expect during his first practices in charge of an entire side of the ball. Leach said secondary and offensive line coach are the best assistant positions to prepare someone to become a coordinator.
"You have to be mindful of the technique at your position but also broaden it out so you're seeing the big picture," he said.
Leach said that in the time he's spent with Grinch so far he's been very impressed. "Every time you talk to him he's talking about teaching. How do we teach this how do we teach that."
— Leach said there are three main things he hopes to accomplish each spring: 1) "Evaluating your talent because none of it stayed the same. The vast majority improved and developed and you need to plug new faces in to where they can best impact the team." 2) "Arm them with as many skills and things as you can within the context of their role so they can continue to develop their skills over the summer." 3) Experiment with new stuff. This is the least important of the three, according to Leach.
— I asked Leach what the characteristic that will define Grinch's style will be. Here is his answer: "At Missouri what really allowed them to excel in the SEC, and one thing impressive about Missouri, you know the SEC and not the conference as a whole, but you saw the same stuff I did and a lot of it was kind of fan-based rather than conference based but the SEC insulted their intelligence to even have Missouri in the conference. And then what have they done they've won the East the past two years and I think the biggest place they improved was their defensive identity and unifying that and there was a sense that Mizzou wasn't going to stop these SEC offenses and that proved to be false."
I just got off a plane here in sunny Las Vegas to see that Washington State has released an updated football roster. Notably missing are cornerback Sebastian LaRue and punter Jordan Dascalo. Larue was expected to contend for a starting spot in the secondary — or maybe switch back to offense — and Dascalo showed a booming leg as WSU's starting punter last season.
The punting depth in particular took a hit, since Wes Concepcion, who made a few career starts, no longer appears on the roster, either. I also see that linebacker Nathan Hundeby is no longer on the roster.
No reason to speculate on their status with the program — coach Mike Leach is about to hold a teleconference so I'm sure we'll get an update shortly.
Here is the roster:
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.
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 HonorsSAN 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, OregonPAC-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.
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 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.
— 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.