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The Cougars preview this weekend’s games

Ernie Kent spent the first part of this week on the road recruiting while his players took a couple days off.

But he returned in time to sit down with the media and talk about this weekend's games against the Arizona schools. Afterwards the Cougars held practiced and I was able to speak with Ike Iroegbu and Dexter Kernich-Drew. Those videos and a transcript of Kent's remarks are below.

WSU head coach Ernie Kent

Question: Who runs practice when you're on the road recruiting?

Ernie Kent: We have days off. We had Monday and Tuesday off, just because we played on Sunday and we've been on a schedule to give our guys a couple days off just because typically when you play on Saturday on the road and you travel back on Sunday. With us traveling back here … it's really not a true day off. So we were giving them Mondays off. That's a pretty good routine with them and with us playing the game on Friday we felt like Monday-Tuesday was a good time to get some time of and we could do a little bit of recruiting now. When they do that they still work with our strength and conditioning coach, they're still getting in cold pools so we're really working at getting their legs back and getting their bodies back. Particularly those guys that log a lot of minutes.

Q: What stood out when you reviewed last weekend's games?
EK: We played, we executed a really good game plan against Oregon State. And we had them down, we had a chance to really put some distance because when you play a team like that if they get up on you 10 it's like being up 20, but if you get up on them 10, 12 it's like being up 20, too.

We didn't take advantage of that because we did not shoot the ball. Our guards, Que, Dexter, DaVonte were like 8 for 21 I think and then Ike and Ny were another 4 for 12. You've got ot shoot the ball better so we had our chance to really separate and put them in a big hole and we did not take advantage of that.

To me it was a wasted game in a sense because it was right there for us to win and they did a good job of closing out the game. Oregon, I felt like they played their best game of the year. I felt like with all the emotion going back into that environment for me, this team felt it being in that building, that crowd, it took Oregon and we talked about this before the game, they played up.

They played great with fantastic energy and everything else. We did not respond and again did not start the game shooting the ball well, turned it over and got ourselves in a big hole.  We played hard, we battled through it in the second half but by then the game is so far out of reach you basically manage the game and get out of the game without getting people hurt.

Q: Was there a correlation between the end of the OSU game and the start of the UO game?
EK: The biggest correlation is and we went through this with the Utah-Colorado trip, we played on a Thursday and then had to come back and play on a Sunday. They played on a Wednesday then came back and played on a Sunday so that extra day sitting there is huge to take a day off when you watch a team play, where we had to go right into prepping for games. So that would be the biggest thing. But, you know, I felt like not shooting it well on the road at Oregon State and then that crowd and that energy they started to play with, it certainly was a hangover just putting the ball in the hole but it was nothing that we did not expect. We knew the building was going to be energized, we knew they were going to come after us having lost here and they did exactly that.

Q: Did you see a big adjustment between the first and second games against UO?

EK: I think the biggest adjustment was that they came out just on fire. They shot it so well. We matched that shooting here in Pullman as you'll remember. IT was a heck of a college basketball game. They scored 98 points and we scored 108 points, that's a lot of points put up on the board. They came back with the same team, only with more energy. We didn't come back with the same team that was here in Pullman and that kind of confidence and that was a big difference in the game when it got away from us. The ball just didn’t' go in at the start for whatever reason and it got out of hand very quickly.

Q: What has Dexter Kernich-Drew been doing differently?
EK: Well, he was aggressive but we didn't get a lot accomplished. He hit the two big 3s but he also had some (bad) plays, offensively and defensively. We didn't get a lot done in the game in the first half of the game. I felt like there were drives where he missed layups, he was responsible for Young and lost him a couple times – Young was playing with so much energy, beat us down the floor. Our rotations were a step slow, they were a step faster than us. The comment I made was that they were running a 100-yard dash, we were running a mile.

Their energy was just superior to ours. With Dex I don’t want to say he didn't do anything differently because he's played well in practice, as well, and really as the practices carried over to the games he's played as well in the games, with the same kind of confidence, courage, firepower that we need out of him. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Coming down the stretch it's so important for Dexter, DaVonte and Jordan. They need to make sure they close out their college careers in a big way and I'm going to talk to them about that today. Just the confidence, the courage, the enjoyment and having fun of being on their games and it's just as important for these underclassmen to make sure they close out their college careers in a big way so we can have some success  late in the season heading into Pac-12 tournament play.

Q: If he plays well could you go back to some of the small-ball lineups from earlier in the year?
EK: The small ball really depends on that matchups on the other side. If teams have a small lineup, only one big on the floor, Arizona State with Gilling's a small forward and everything, you can get away with some of that. If you look at teams like Stanford and Reid's playing again, or you look at Washington where we had to go small to beat them with a little more speed. But there are some teams where their bigs are really effective and you have to be careful going small because they can really pound you inside.

But yes, it allows us to have the flexibility to go small, play faster, put more skill, more scorers on the floor.

Q: When you play a slow and fast team the same week does that make it challenging?
EK: It shouldn't (affect the players). The only scenario where you have that is Oregon State with the way they play and everybody goes through that, all of their scores are down because they shorten down possessions, they do a good job defensively, a good job of grinding the game out, making the game ugly and closing it out in the last few minutes of the game. And their biggest advantage is having their people back in the building – that's a tough place to play over there now with that crowd sitting on top of you as well as their style of play.

If you have the right aggressive approach, you saw them play UCLA, UCLA just splits them. They got out the gate, they stayed aggressive, they were fast, they attacked, they were successful. Then you can control tempo. But if you don't get out the gate against them and allow them to control tempo, now it's a whole different ballgame. Now it's become difficult to go from a speed game in one game to just a grind-it-out kind of dogfight and then the next game, because you did not get out the gate and control tempo and force them to play your speed, they force you to play their speed.

Q: What have you seen from Arizona State?
EK: I've seen a team that plays really, really hard. I've seen a team that is starting to figure out who they are and who they are as an identity having last Jahii Carson, Bachynski, that was a big hit for their program and now they're starting to figure out how to do some things.

They're very good defensively, they play with a tremendous amount of energy. Both of these games this weekend are going to be extremely tough games for us because the personnel in both of them will present problems. Arizona State, they played a heck of a basketball game against Arizona last week. Controlled tempo, played hard, knocked down big shots. If we get that same team and we're not ready to match their intensity, their energy, their confidence, we'll struggle in the game. So we need to make sure we're ready to play that game and not look ahead, we can't afford to look ahead to an Arizona game on Sunday.

Q: What's the focus in practice leading up to the ASU game?
EK: I think the biggest focus for us is to not worry about them but to worry about us. We have to get back on our games is what I call it and for those seniors especially, having done this before there has to be some nervous there. There has to be, very similar to you guys that have gone through it as you hit your senior year and that light comes on at the end of the tunnel and "what am I going to do now? What do I do with my life next?"

You're talking about players that have been in comfort zones in terms of scholarships, travel, meal money, told where to go, when to be there and all of a sudden, boom, it's coming to an end. There has to be some nervousness there. We have to make sure that those three guys play with confidence and understand it's so important for them to close out their careers the right way.

If we do not do that, that's a lot of firepower that we don't have. If DaVonte's out of whack, Dexter's out of whack, Jordan's out of whack in these games it doesn't matter which gameplan we put in, we're going to struggle in the game. So we really don't worry so much about an opponent as we worry about our mental approach to the game and do we have our energy and our confidence.

Q: What does Brett need to do to regain his confidence?
EK: I talk about he needs to empty his backpack. It's interesting dealing with this team and how, sometimes I would say, fragile confidence is with any player across the country unless you're a senior that's had a dominant career. In his case, he misses one or two shots and he starts thinking too much and now I'm in a slump. Well no you're not, you missed a few shots.

There's so much more he was doing to help us win games. His energy up and down the floor, his blocking out, his rebounding, he allowed us to play small-ball because he was in the right places defensively. All of that translates into, you've got an open shot and a chance to shoot it. It's not just about scoring the basketball so he tends to get a little bit frustrated and we need to calm him down. That's all about confidence, again, understanding that he's got a green light to shoot it, he's going to play, he's going to get minutes. Just relax and play.

Q: Why should students resist the urge to go home for the long weekend?
EK: I can't control what the students do. Having an opportunity to go home for a long weekend and see family and friends, that's a big one there. You don't know whether they've been here, they're in a rut, they need to leave or whatever.

I can only control the environment of my basketball team, my practices, locker room and once we get to game time. I would hope that people in the community, they'll be here, they're not going away for the weekend. Our crowds have not been great. We started building them because we had some success and then we had a big hiccup the Oregon State weekend and all of a sudden here we are in a bit of a spiral again and people have lost some faith. It's all a process and when we look back on this people will understand how hard we have to work to have the success down the road. I'm hoping that those that do stay here, because I understand people needing to go home. The ones that are here I hope come see two great ballgames because these are two really good teams coming here, you see a ranked team coming in here in Arizona on Sunday, you see a team that just beat that ranked team coming in on Friday. They're going to be excellent basketball games so those students that do stay, I hope they come out and support us.

Q: Is "The Process" playing out like you would hope?
EK: Any coach would want more wins and when I look at our schedule and look at Idaho, Santa Clara, look at Oregon State here, look at Cal here, look at Oregon State on the road, games you were right there to close out games and you could have played better or should have done some things differently in the game, those are hard to take because you didn’t' manage your schedule at times as a program. But in the same sense, we've had tremendous growth and I always use this phrase, I talked about with the group this morning, you get these jobs and you go in, you really have to evaluate. You evaluate the media, the fan support, marketing, your system, what it takes for them to be successful.

You evaluate and once you have a feel for that, evaluation takes place, then you start to anticipate. Here comes the start of the season. OK, we get to see now. I've done TV games, let me see what Oregon's game plan is like, let me see USC, see their talent. See where we are compared to everybody else. And then you start to calculate.

Here's what we need, here's where we're going, here's the pieces we have. So that's kind of what you're going through so when you look at it through that perspective as a coach I'm comfortable with what we've seen and what we've done so far. The season has given us an opportunity to see the best programs in the conference, the best players in the conference, the strengths and weaknesses of the conference and it allows you to understand where you need to go with your program. The recruiting, the teaching, the coaching, the talent. You can evaluate all that and say OK, let's reload, this is where we need to get to having been through the conference and seen all the teams.

Q: Did the Duck in Oregon actually dress up in a three-piece suit?
EK: Actually, as focused as I was I didn't even notice the Duck, maybe that's why. That's pretty cool if that happened and everything. It was neat to be back because, again, I think as coaches we're so driven and sometimes you have to get off the merry-go-round and stop and take a look back to understand what you've accomplished with different programs and players at points in time of your career.

Being let go at Oregon gave me a chance to do that. I will never forget my sister calling me on Father's Day one year in the midst of my four-year leave of absence and say, 'Do you realize what you've accomplished and all that you've done?' So when you go back into that environment and see all those pictures on the practice court and all those pictures around that arena. We took the team  into the locker room so they can see all those pictures in their team meeting room, all those nametags above the locker room giving the point totals of all the greatest players.

Out of those 20 names up above, three-fourths of them are your players or you played with them and of those pictures up there, 90 percent of them are pictures of your past players. So it's a good feeling that you were able to accomplish all of that for Eugene, you've given them a beautiful building, all of those support staff people have a great building to come to work in versus that old run-down Mac Court building that we did a good job putting lipstick on it. But probably the biggest thing was to help the young guys in this program what you can accomplish with a vision.

Because we started further back at Oregon than we're starting here at Washington State and we were able to bring that program that far and to see that building the other day, it was nice to see it, it was even better to be there on the sidelines as a coach because you had been told so many times, "He will never coach in that building," by critics, by whoever. And yet, little did people know that God's plan in all this was for you to coach in that building, but little did they know you were going to be coaching on the other end of it. To go back in there was a special feeling for all those people and all those fans to acknowledge that.

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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