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Ernie Kent Q&A: getting their legs back

Ernie Kent addressed the media today while his team takes what is, in his opinion, a much-needed break to focus on finals.

The Cougars played three games last week, but will have eight days off following their loss at Santa Clara before hosting San Jose State on Sunday.

"We knew right away (at SCU) that our legs weren't moving as good and everything else," Kent said. "You try to fight through it and we just didn't shoot the ball well, again."

A full transcription of Kent's remarks is after the jump.



(How well is Josh Hawkinson playing?)

See, I'm going to go old school. The last guy they called "Hawk" was Connie Hawkins. When you said "Hawk" you threw me for a loop there.

Here's a young man that I saw doing Pac-12 TV Network and I thought he had a perfect game as I was sitting doing the games. Here is a prototype European big that they were looking at a few years back and, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, in the NBA when they talk about that 6-foot-9 and skilled guy that can shoot 3s and rebound and pass – he does a little bit of everything. He had a play in the Santa Clara game when he came down the middle and dunked and showed that play in his repertoire. I just think he's perfect for our style of coaching, our system, our style of play and that's why he's having so much success. You're seeing a player just grow up and emerge right in front of our eyes, which I come back again when you talk about embracing a process to see these players develop and come of age.

And he is certainly one of those guys that's done a wonderful job in developing his game. And it's only going to get better and he gets stronger and his stamina is better and those types of things.

(What are some things you're working on right now?)

The progress needs to be in the area of consistently shooting the basketball. And some of this we don't want to harp on because there's nothing they can do about it but the schedule gets you so up and down, it really knocks you out a little bit.

We just came out of three games in seven days. That's hard to do, it's hard on bodies with two of them being on the road. Our travel down to Santa Clara was just horrendous to get down there, leaving campus at 12:30 and walking down to the gym at 10 p.m. to shoot the ball, that's hard to do. You're inside of a 24-hour window to play the game and you've still got to do another walk-through in terms of your prep and stuff, that's hard to do.

That's not making any excuses, it's just so that when I say, "where we're at," the consistency of shooting the ball and consistency of certain guys on what I call their A-game. We need eight or nine of them on their game because when you start to press buttons in terms of substitution and game-planning, guys have got to be ready to play. It's hard because it puts a lot of pressure on you to have them ready to go all the time – you can't afford to have a guy have an off night. We need guys ready to play.

(How can you get DaVonte Lacy going?)

Well, understand coming into the Gonzaga game he had 31 points in two out of three games. That's pretty good. He went into the Gonzaga game and didn't shoot it as well and it carried into this travel trip going down to Santa Clara. He's getting looks, he's getting shots. It's just a matter in my opinion of him making sure he's got great stamina and great energy. So we've got to watch his legs, if anything, in terms of all the wear and tear and travel and practice and making sure his energy stays high.

(Are you worried?)

He's averaging less than he usually does because Ike Iroegbu is playing so well, Josh Hawkinson is playing so well and even Ny Redding. We didn't anticipate him averaging the same amount that he averaged last year just because it's a system that the ball is shared so much and other people score and you don't run set plays for him, where people can sit on him and say "let's just take out DaVonte and it'll shut their offense down." They have to shut down a number of guys.

So, I think for him if we look at shots and we look at tape and see the open looks that he's getting and things like that – he's in a transition stage, too, in terms of understanding what we're trying to do all the time out on the floor.

(Against Gonzaga what did you do that gave them trouble?)

I think the biggest thing we did was defended their guards. When Pangos goes scoreless in a game, it just doesn't happen. Bell only had four points. Wesley got away from us in the second half because we had to double-team their bigs and his game opens up cutting through the middle and things like that. I said before, their big guys are really good, they're really skilled, they know how to score. Mark (Few) thought we played them really physical, he mentioned that on his show last night. I just thought we got after them defensively. And the energy in the building, when you have a crowd like that you do play at a different level.

Their energy level dialed up our energy level and I thought that was really good.

(Does that show you what the team is capable of?)

No question about it. I think understanding that Santa Clara was sitting down there with nine games rest because of finals. It was our third game in seven days. We had a team up playing a Pac-12 team with tremendous energy, it's hard to guard them. And we knew right away that our legs weren't moving as good and everything else. You try to fight through it and we just didn't shoot the ball well, again.

When I look at where we're at right now, our schedule has allowed us to grow up. It hasn't beat us up and if we can get out of it .500 it would be great for us going into conference play, because we open up three straight conference games on the road, too.

If we can weather it – and I've talked about hat before – if it doesn't beat you up mentally and physically, the schedule can turn into your favor. That's what I'm trying to make sure doesn't happen to us, especially in our confidence.

(Did you see your big men step up against Gonzaga?)

I think with Hawkinson, who really is a big, obviously he's one of the most if not the most improved player in the conference and that's a huge plus. Let me jump to Iroegbu, his level of play right now is just incredible how high of a level he's doing, as well as Ny Redding for a freshman, so three of those guys are playing well. And if we can just get DaVonte to be consistent and everything, that's good. Now, let's jump to the bigs. Junior is probably giving us what he can give us. We play him in two or three minutes spurts and his energy is good, he defends well, he's kind of the cornerstone of our defense and that's good. Do I need more out of Cheatum, yes, Railey, yes, and part of that is me giving them more minutes and having more confidence in them because they can give us more.

I thought Jordan after the Texas-San Antonio game came back to practice with a new bounce, new step, new energy. I thought he did a good job in the Gonzaga game and he's going to have to give us more because of what the competition is going to be. Stanford's bigs, Cal's bigs, Washington's bigs, we've got to have something to neutralize that kind of size inside and that's Jordan.

(Did you try to shadow GU's bigs?)

We did and we made that adjustment, and realize, again, when Karnowski's on the floor with Wiltjer you can't shadow, because Wiltjer's shooting 3s. He plays out on the perimeter so he doesn't give you your traditional 3-out, 2-in offense where you've got two big guys down there and you can double-team their bigs because the other big is sitting on the block and you know where he is to rotate. Wiltjer can be anywhere on the floor and if you cover down off of him, he's going to light you up for a 3 so that's where you pick your poison. Do you give up a 2 or do you give up a 3? So you need to handle Karnowski one-on-one and then we double-team him with the (guy guarding) the worst-shooting guard on the floor and sure enough Wesley goes off on you and has a good-shooting night.

So that's what I meant my "pick your poison" and until we get a little bigger, a little bit more dominant inside because in that type of game your bigs need to put pressure on their bigs and get them in foul trouble attacking them. We didn’t have the production out of our bigs that they had out of theirs.

(Is Hawkinson the most improved player you've ever seen?)

Typically your big improvement is from year one to year two, from freshman to sophomore years. Your hardest semester, your hardest time as a freshman is that first semester or first quarter and they all hit a wall, Ny Redding is going to hit a wall and then have to climb back over it. After that first year, the second year you get big improvements. The third year, not as much and then their senior year they become studs. So, the fact that he didn’t' play much last year, this is very impressive to me, how far he's come. But a lot of that has to do with confidence. And as soon as I got the job, one of the first conversations I had with him, "I'm going to let you shoot the ball, and you need to shoot it from the perimeter or wherever you want to shoot it," because I thought his game was that good.

(What is the next step in his improvement?)

I think right now he's on a good path. We don't know if he's going to hit the wall, break off or whatever but he's putting up some incredible numbers and we have to keep him in that direction. His next biggest improvement will come this spring and this summer when you can get him back into the weight room and get him to lift and change his body. Because he's not going to improve on his athleticism but he can certainly improve on his stamina and his strength, and that's going to be huge for him.

So you're looking at a player that's going to have an opportunity to be a dominant player in this conference his junior and senior seasons, just because of his confidence and his body continuing to change.

(Will some improvement happen naturally as his teammates get more experience?)

I think the guy that you can continue to see will be Ike, No. 1, because his confidence is growing every game and he's starting to do some amazing things on the floor with his athleticism and his energy and his aggressive style to his game. With Ny Redding it will be just about feeling comfortable confident in the system – he's another guy where you hit your spring and summer you can get him bigger and stronger, then his game will change. This is just great experience for him right now getting this opportunity to get this many minutes. When you look down the road and you think Ny and Ike and Josh, that's a pretty good cornerstone coming back in your program. You've got guys like Que that can still paly and get so much better in his game, and you've got Jackie Davis and Trevor Dunbar. Brett Boese, I think Brett's another guy that's playing about as well as he can play—his game has really gotten better in the last three weeks, he's giving us some very valuable minutes.   So the younger players that are playing well, and you talk about down the road you can add to it, that's a good base of guys playing at that type of level and getting those types of minutes.

(What does Longrus have to do for his defensive rebounding rate to match his offensive rebounds?)

Understand with the way we defend he could get switched onto a shooting guard or a 3-man, which means he's away from the basket defending someone when a shot goes up and that's why you don't see the rebounding numbers on the defensive end, where Josh is pretty much all the time on a 5-man, which is why he goes and gets the ball so much. He's down there rebounding the basketball while Junior has his man blocked out five feet from the bucket. By the time he gets there Josh has gobbled it up. So, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a good thing in terms of how we're playing defensively.

(What do you hope to get out of Que and how can he get there?)

I think the biggest thing for Que is if we can get the Que back that played last year. Granted, again, his confidence came when DaVonte went out. He became the focal point and became a great catch-and-shoot guy. We looked at how he got his shots last year and how he's getting shots this year and they're pretty similar. The difference being, now you've got other guys that are putting up numbers and the speed of the game is different and things like that. His is more, he's still in a transition phase of playing faster, moving more, reading more, reacting more, shooting more and we need more production out of him. This last ballgame I thought he did a better job and hopefully he can continue to move in a positive direction.

Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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