HOOPS: What is Cougs' identity? Lacy knows...

PULLMAN – Failing to finish close games last week against Butler and Saint Joseph was a painful lesson, but one Cougar players have taken to heart, says junior guard DaVonté Lacy this week in between practices leading up to Saturday's 7 p.m. border tussle in Moscow with Idaho.

"I think we learned kind of what our identity needs to be for us to be successful…," DaVonté Lacy said. "If we want to be as good as we need to be, then we need to work harder and compete."

The Cougs (3-4) looked hardworking and smoother last week at the Old Spice Classic than they had in previous games. It earned them a victory over Purdue. But in the Butler and Saint Joseph games the bottom fell out at the end.

On Sunday, the Cougs were outscored 12-2 run over the final 4:16 against St. Joe's and lost 72-67. In the loss to Butler on Thanksgiving, WSU was outscored 11-2 in the final 2:28 and went down 76-69.

"I think we discovered that and we're starting to play a lot harder and compete a lot more. It's not like those games weren't close. We kind of found our identity and we need to just run with it," Lacy said.

Indeed, those collective 6 minutes and 44 seconds in Orlando overshadowed progress by the Cougars.

The victory over Purdue was telling. The Cougs scored only 17 points in the first half but came out firing in the second and outscored the Boilermakers 52-27 over the final 20 minutes. Maintaining that level of efficiency is what's going to get this team over that late-game hump, along with more practice reps in those type of situations, Lacy said.

Watching Butler take powerhouse Oklahoma State down to the final shot in the Old Spice title game was a shot in the arm for the Cougars, he added.

"We literally sat there and said, ‘you know what, we can play with anybody.' We knew that we could compete with anybody but it showed us that we can," Lacy said.

"We got to physically see it and once we did that… now I think we can and we're going to come back here, compete and play Idaho really hard this Saturday."

Idaho is 4-4 this season after dropping two straight last week, to Boise State and UC Davis.

THE VANDLAS ARE no strangers to Lacy.

"It's funny, I actually live with a barber and all the Idaho guys come over and get their hair cut so I don't really talk about us playing them, I let my game talk but there's gonna be a lot of talking (Saturday.) It's going to be a good game, it's going to be a hard-fought game and hopefully we come away with a win."

The Vandals have a distinct Washington flavor to their roster. One of their leading scorers, senior Glen Dean, is from Seattle, while two talented freshmen, Sekou Wiggs and Perrion Callandret, hail from Seattle and Bothell, respectively.

"I just met Perrion this year, I knew his brother Glenn. (Perrion) is gonna be really good, he's young, he's really athletic. He's gonna be good he just has to keep working on his game so it's gonna be fun to start a rivalry with him," said Lacy, who leads the Cougs in scoring with an average of more than 20 per game.

"I actually met Sekou here at a Washington Elite camp. We flew into Spokane and we drove down together and we actually spent time here at the elite camp playing against each other so our rivalry has been with us."

THE COUGARS ARE STARTING TO get a greater sense of what Que Johnson can bring to the table offensively. Johnson eclipsed double-digit scoring in two of the last three games, notching a career-high of 11 points against Butler and scoring 10 second half points against St. Joe's.

Still, it's more than just about scoring. Ken Bone said the redshirt freshman guard hasn't earned the privilege of playing 40 minutes a night, let alone earning more minutes. He'll have to earn any increased playing time through his game performances. But Johnson, who is averaging 16.8 minutes through six games, says he has a plan for earning more playing time.

"Defense and get more rebounds," Johnson said. "Basically if you play defense and rebound, you can never see yourself off the floor."

Johnson said his newfound assertiveness on the offensive end came from a moment where Bone told Johnson to resort back to his style of play at Westwind Prep Academy -- where he was rarely tentative and looking to score. Since then, he says he's begun to find his role within the game plan.

"That really helped me out mentally to get in focus," he said. "I'm way more comfortable with the offense and I feel like I'm doing a better job of being more aggressive."

AS JOHNSON LOOKS to turn that corner, Lacy says the Cougs as a team need to increase both mental toughness and preparation - and to do so on an everyday basis. A rivalry game on Saturday at Idaho should naturally see higher levels of that but Lacy says the Cougs need to do more.

"I think we need to be locked in. I think we need to find that focus and apply it to the rest of the season. Idaho is such a big game for us because we don't want to lose it. When it comes to regular other games, we don't do the same sometimes and I feel like we need to do that as a team to be successful," he said.


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