New-look Cougs ready to prove doubters wrong

PULLMAN - Jitters, early growing pains and nerves, all of that is now out of the way – so say Cougar players as they eye Friday's season opener against CSU Bakersfield (7:00 p.m.; TV: Pac-12 Networks). With an exhibition win under their belts, the team picked to finished last in the league say they're ready to make a statement in the Pac-12, starting on Friday night.

"It's good to get the exhibition (win) to get some of the new guys' jitters out of the way, with Que (Johnson), Ike (Iroegbu) and Josh (Hawkinson)," DaVonté Lacy said Tuesday. "So it's going to be fun to actually have this game count and have the stats count … we're going to see if we can continue on the same pace that we set for ourselves."

"It's a crazy feeling because it's been so long since we've been in-season, so it's kind of a weird feeling but I can't wait," Royce Woolridge said.

Sophomore forward Junior Longrus said for the Cougs, the season started the day after their Pac-12 Tournament loss in 2012-13. And the fact this season carries with it a new look on defense, that's something Longrus said is right up his alley.

"I feel (the defense) is going well, I'm kind of a defensive-minded player," said Longrus. "I love having Coach (Rod) Jensen in there, he's real passionate about defense and that makes everybody passionate. I think the team, our culture regarding defense really changed and we're all excited about deflections, getting stops, charges, things like that. I think that's one thing that's really going to help us improve our record and improve as a team overall."

"I thought we did a good job defensively (Friday), it was kind of our first look at our new defense of course we need to sharpen some things up. For a start, it's a good start," said Woolridge.

WITH ALL FIVE starters scoring in double figures in the 93-56 exhibition win against Central, the Cougars previewed what many expect to be a balanced scoring after losing go-to guy Brock Motum. Lacy, who finished Friday's game with 12 points, said any given night out, anybody can erupt and have a huge game scoring-wise.

For Longrus that balanced scoring output is a product of the team gelling as a group.

"We're really cohesive …we really have worked in the offseason to kind of improve at being a unit and kind of recognizing that we're one," he said. "We work best when we play as one, not one guy looking for his and another guy looking for his -- but I definitely think practice has been more competitive, which is kind of allowing everybody to get better at their game and increase our competitiveness as a culture as a team.

"Us playing together and us playing for the same goal is definitely something that we improved upon. Hopefully that'll show up when we get on the court."

THE COUGS HAVE only the exhibition game under their belts but it seems clear Johnson, a redshirt freshman, and two true freshmen, Hawkinson and Iroegbu, will be relied upon significantly this season. Lacy said rust is still playing a factor in Johnson's game but Iroegbu and Hawkinson are already making an impact.

"I think the two freshman are doing an outstanding job -- Josh with his rebounding ability and skill, footwork and stuff; Ike, just coming along and maturing so quick and so fluently, I would say. He's doing a good job. Both of them are just really standing out."

Lacy said the Cougs don't know a whole lot about CSU Bakersfield but that the team's mindset, no matter what, is to figure they'll be in for a fight in their season opener.

"We know they're a D-I program and we know they're going to try and come in here and beat us because this is probably a big game for them – we've just gotta be ready to play," he said.

"We can't wait," said Longrus. "Preseason is one thing -- getting in the weight room and doing sand and pool workouts is one thing to do in the offseason -- but on the court is where it counts and this is where we win our games… we've gotta go out on the court and perform... show that all the things we've been working on during the offseason aren't for naught."

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