It wasn’t always pretty, but Sunday's 90-83 win over UC Davis was just what Washington State needed.
You can read our story from that game here and we'll take a closer look at yesterday's game after the jump.
-- Jordan Railey has scored in double figures in consecutive games for the first time in his WSU career, getting a dozen against San Jose State last week and again against the Aggies.
He appears to have found a couple go-to post moves and his touch around the basket has greatly improved in December, when he's made 16 of 27 shots.
It's a big deal for the Cougars to be getting significant contributions from Railey, as it allows Ernie Kent to rest Josh Hawkinson, who was probably playing too many minutes.
In Railey's three highest-scoring games (SJSU, UCD and Texas-San Antonio) Hawkinson has averaged 28.3 minutes per game. In WSU's other nine games he has averaged 32.2 minutes per game, and the number would be much higher if Kent hadn't limited his minutes in blowout losses to TCU and UC Santa Barbara.
Life is about to get more difficult for Hawkinson, who has recorded a double-double in four consecutive games and is averaging 19.3 points and nearly 12.8 rebounds per game in that span.
Having another post player playing well also allows Hawkinson to pop out for more midrange jump shots, which are his forte, and 3-pointers, which he's currently shooting at a 44 percent clip. That, in turn, stretches the defense and opens things up for guards DaVonte Lacy and Ike Iroegbu on drive.
The Pac-12 schedule is a grind and with how much the Cougars rely on Hawkinson, it will be imperative to keep his legs fresh. If Railey can give WSU 20 solid minutes a night it would be a big help.
"He's stepped up, he's getting rebounds, he's scoring for us and I think he's going to be the key factor for us going into conference play," Hawkinson said after the game.
-- Que Johnson had easily his best offensive game of the season, scoring 14 points and making 5 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc. A highly-regarded recruit, Johnson was WSU's most dynamic guard behind DaVonte Lacy last season but has been the Cougars' missing man on offense this season, going without a basket in three games and shooting just 29 percent from the field entering last night's game.
A smooth, athletic, 6-foot-5 wing, Johnson is one of WSU's most naturally gifted players.
From what I saw of preseason practices he looked like a guy that was ready to take off as a scorer. During one scrimmage he was so tough to guard that I believe he ended up outscoring the other team.
Yesterday he was hitting his shots and attacking the basket. If that starts to become the norm for Johnson then all of a sudden the Cougars look like a much more dangerous offensive team.
-- WSU's defense started off well but deteriorated over the course of the game, and was practically a mess at the end. Corey Hawkins dominated, and was the game's leading scorer with 29 points. Interestingly, however, Hawkins tanked the Aggies' 3-point field goal percentage, making just 1 of 5 attempts.
The rest of the Aggies were 8 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Here are some notes from the game:
-- Lacy's 22 points were his most since scoring 31 against UTSA on Dec. 6. He passed Ron Bennink to now rank No. 17 on WSU's all-time scoring lists.
-- WSU's 23 assists were the most in a game since the Cougars had 25 against Portland State on Dec. 19, 2009.
-- UCD's .559 field goal percentage and .563 3-point field goal percentage were season-highs by WSU opponents.
Here's a cross-section of the postgame commentary:
Ernie Kent: Davis was a good game for us to play before conference play because they were a gritty basketball team. You can see why their 9-1 record was a good record for them, they'd just come off the road from beating Northern Arizona and Air Force. Hawkins is a terrific scorer – we had our hands full with him.
That being said, I thought our first eight to 12, eight to 14 minutes of this game was as good of basketball as we've played all year long, offensively and defensively. We were really on our A-game. Unfortunately, sometimes when you get a big lead like that teams tend to want to score more and defend less. And with a player the caliber of Hawkins, he just lit us up when we got into that mode.
We made some adjustments at halftime. I thought we were really spotty in the second half defensively, even thought we continued to share the ball and do some things offensively. Eight turnovers for Ny Redding, obviously he left part of his game at home for Christmas so we've got to go unwrap a couple presents and find his game. And I thought five turnovers by DaVonte Lacy, that's way too many turnovers for this team.
Q: You and Hersey Hawkins are both Chicago-area basketball guys. What was it like coaching against his kid?
EK: Well, he looked every bit as good as his dad is what it was like. Because his dad was a terrific scorer and obviously he's passed that on to his son. I just thought he was one of those special players – that's as good as we'll see in the conference. A guy that can move like that, score like that, he can play the point, he comes off the ball, he can score. He does a lot of things that cause a lot of problems.
Q: Were you trying to energize the team defensively by switching to a half-court trap?
EK: Well, we were trying to slow down Hawkins is what we were trying to do a little bit, and make them take some time off the clock, locating him. But obviously change the rhythm, change the tempo of the game on the defensive end of the floor because he was in such a great rhythm.
Q: How did your nonconference schedule prepare you for the Pac-12?
EK: Everything we need to see in Pac-12 we saw in nonconference. From a big, strong, physical team in TCU where we did not handle ourselves well or handle the environment, to an athletic team that loves to run and is very skilled in UTEP and playing in front of 9,000 people, I thought we played well. To a terrific scoring guard from Missouri State who was the leading scorer in the country, I thought we played well in that game. We had some adversity up in Alaska that we bounced back from.
So everything that we needed to see, we've seen, now it's a matter of stepping up to another level. You've got to bring your A-game when you go on the road in this conference, particularly on opening weekend in this conference.