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WSU men’s basketball team opens season at UTEP

PULLMAN – Washington State will open its men’s basketball season on the road for the first time since 2006 as first-year coach Ernie Kent takes the Cougars on a two-game Texas swing before next Friday’s home opener.

Tonight, the Cougars will tip off the 2014-15 season at Texas-El Paso in Kent’s first official game as a head coach since his dismissal at Oregon following the 2010 season. The Cougars will then travel to TCU for Monday’s game against the Horned Frogs.

Kent would prefer his first regular-season game as the WSU coach be at home in Beasley Coliseum, but says he welcomes the teaching opportunity for his team to grow on the road.

“This is not a trip where you go and have a great time on the road at a hotel eating good food,” Kent said. “This is about going out and getting better, being together. They’re excellent teaching environments when you go out on the road, and I love it because you get a chance to have just your team in a confined area – and teams tend to grow underneath me when we have an opportunity to teach like that and bring them along.”

The games will serve as a Pac-10 reunion of sorts for Kent, who coached against Tim Floyd when the UTEP head coach was at USC from 2005 until 2009, and against TCU’s Trent Johnson, who was the head coach at Stanford from 2004 until 2008.

In the Miners, the Cougars will have a formidable first opponent. UTEP is receiving votes in both the coaches and the AP polls coming off a 23-win season. The Miners beat WSU 64-51 last season in Pullman.

Floyd has his team run a number of different offensive and defensive sets that will pressure the Cougars as they try to perfect Kent’s new schemes.

“At every stop he’s been at he’s had success,” Kent said. “He does it with a multitude of different defenses – gimmicky, jump defenses, whatever you want to call them.

The first time the programs played each other was in 1964 when the Cougars beat what was then Texas Western, 67-63.

The following season, the Miners and coach Don Haskins would beat Kentucky for a national championship, a title that was chronicled in the 2006 movie “Glory Road.”

Tonight’s game will not be televised, although UTEP’s athletics website is streaming the game for a fee.

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