KENT: Someone else needs to step up for Cougs

PULLMAN - The secret scrimmage a couple weeks ago did more than just offer Ernie Kent a road map on his team’s strengths and weaknesses on the court. Kent said Monday playing the scrimmage on the road at Nevada helped simulate what a road trip is all about. With that trip in their back pocket, the Cougars now do it for real as they open the 2014-2015 season with two road games this weekend.

Ernie Kent by NCAA rule can’t talk specific details about the secret scrimmage but he did say his team handled the road trip the way he hoped they would.

“I was very pleased with our ability to practice from 6-8 (a.m.), an early morning practice, then go to class, then meet in coat and tie and get on a bus at 1:30 and then travel and get into bed at about 11, (then) having a walk through, perform, come back to campus in coat and tie and handle themselves that same day/next day in practice,” Kent said. “That’s a good indication of the type of character that you have in your program."

The question now becomes, Kent said, if the Cougs can take care of business when the games count. We’ll find out with UTEP and TCU to open the season Friday and Monday, respectively. It’s a business trip, and Kent said he was pleased at the players’ focus with the potential distractions hotels, airports and airplanes can offer a college student.

The Cougars struggled mightily away from home last season, winning but two games on the road. UTEP last season posted a 14-6 home record. TCU struggled last season but Kent said both are hostile environments for a visiting team.

“Those are two very well coached teams, I know Coach (Tim) Floyd well, Coach (Trent) Johnson extremely well, we’ve battled…both as coaches,” Kent said. “And the fact that they’ll have their teams sitting there waiting for a Pac-12 team to come in, now you’ve got to deal with all the elements of the student body.”

That’s where the business trip mentality comes in.

“Which is why we travel in coat and tie, why we take our academics with us while we are prepared to do the things we need do in meeting rooms, away from basketball to keep them focused on why we’re out here,” Kent said. “This is not a trip that you go and have a great time on road in a hotel, eating good food.. (These are) excellent teaching environments when you go on the road.”

Friday saw the Cougs win an 88-74 exhibition against Azusa Pacific. One of the takeaways for Kent: sophomore guard Ike Iroegbu and redshirt sophomore guard Que Johnson (pictured) need to take greater strides.

Kent said Iroegbu is in the toughest position on the team, (along with Ny Redding and Trevor Dunbar) in terms of making the transition to Kent’s up and down style. He compared it to the spread offense in football.

“A quarterback is the most important thing because he has to make all the reads -- and it’s a very difficult read because you have to so many reads you have to look at before you make a decision as to where the ball needs to go,” Kent said. “Basketball is no different, when you’re transitioning up and down the floor and the speed game, you’ve got to be able to make split decisions right now as to who’s open, where to deliver the ball, how to give them the best opportunity to score.” For Johnson, Kent said it’s about bringing it 24/7. When Johnson gets there, he is a “big-time scorer” who can easily 15-plus points a night. But he has to bring his “A” game night in, night out.

“He has to bring the energy, the intensity, the intelligence of the floor and if he’s able to do that, then his point production will be up to where it was last year which takes pressure off of DaVonte (Lacy. Add in Dexter Kernich-Drew) and Josh Hawkinson playing the way they played and now you’ve got something special.”

Asked why freshman guard Jackie Davis did not see the floor in Friday’s exhibition game. Kent stated: “Coach’s decision and we’ll leave it at that.”

Kent said he hasn’t settled on a set rotation nor the minutes distribution.

“I think for us to be successful we need about a 10 or 11 man rotation and not necessarily meaning that 10th and 11th guy are going to be getting major minutes but they have to have some contribution there,” Kent said. “As we figure this thing out and move forward, I need more productivity obviously out of Jordan Railey, I need it out of Aaron Cheatum, and Junior (Longrus) played a really good game as did Josh. So we need a four big man rotation if we’re going to be successful at this level and those guys need to come with their game.”

Kent added that he was pleased with Lacy’s performance in the exhibition, as well as Kernich-Drew’s, then added Iroegbu and Redding for good measure. “Somebody else has to step up: Que Johnson, Trevor Dunbar, Jackie Davis, Brett Boese. There’s some more minutes that are sitting there that somebody has to step up in and play well and so what I’m looking for is 10-11 guys that are on what I call their “A” game that gives me an opportunity to deal with an ankle injury, a flu bug, for whatever reason somebody’s having an off night.”

The Cougars play at 7 pm at UTEP this Friday (no TV).

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