This week in WSU Hoops: Will Cougs cowboy up?

PULLMAN-After seven months of adjusting to a new coaching staff and system, the WSU men’s basketball team on Friday will finally play a game that counts. Instead of a couple (or more) easy ones at home, WSU opens on the road for the first time since 2012, visiting two hostile environments in the Lone Star State (UTEP, TCU.) If I'm Ernie Kent, I'm giving DaVonte Lacy the go-signal all night long.

The last thing Kent wants in his first season at WSU is to start 0-2 against UTEP and TCU. The Cougars have not been a good road team, winning only two games on the road last season and just one contest in 2012-13.

However, it’s a new era for the WSU men’s basketball program with Kent at the helm. And taking one or both of these tilts to start the season would do wonders for the Cougs’ confidence.

“It’s huge for us (if we win at UTEP), for the program, for the fans,” senior guard DaVonte Lacy said (pictured above). “It’s huge in the fact that we’re putting in so much work and to see it pay off it will feel real good.”

Though Kent will undoubtedly want to spread out the scoring this season on a squad that has but three seniors, Lacy will still have to get his points if the Cougars are to be successful, both down in Texas and all season.

In the 88-74 exhibition win against Azusa Pacific last Friday for Washington State, Lacy scored 22 points and took a team high 15 shots. And as teams are forced to focus more and more on Lacy, that can open up so many other things in Kent's offense.

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The tip-off: Washington State (0-0) at UTEP (0-0), 7 p.m. Friday in Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas. No TV, paid stream only. On Monday, the Cougars play at TCU at 5 p.m. in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, Fort Worth, Texas. This game is slated to be televised on Fox Sports Southwest Plus, (it is also showing up in the guide on Root Sports NW, Fox Sports North and others, check your listings.)

The rankings: None of the three teams are in the top 25, however UTEP did receive one vote in the AP “Others receiving votes” category and four votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Statistical wizard Ken Pomeroy has UTEP at No.78, TCU at No. 130 and WSU at No. 144 in his 2015 College Basketball Ratings.

The line: UTEP is favored by 10.5 points against the Cougars, according to

About UTEP: The Miners finished last season with a 23-11 (12-4 C-USA) and made an appearance in the 2014 CBI Tournament, where they were bounced in the first round by Fresno State (61-56). UTEP is led by Tim Floyd, the former coach at USC who left under a cloud. Floyd enters his fifth season as the Miners’ Head Coach with an 81-52 record. Kent said this week that Floyd will play multiple defensive schemes to find the right one, then sticks with it. Floyd also runs multiple offensive sets as well.

“It will force you to grow and to be able to handle what they do to you defensively, what they want to run offensively, do it on the road in a hostile environment- you have all those things against you it’s going to force you to get better,” said Kent.

The Miners are led by their sophomore forward Vince Hunter, who averaged 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. UTEP is an experience-laden group, returning 11 players this season.

About TCU: The Horned Frogs drove off a cliff last season. TCU finished with a 9-22 record, going 0-18 in Big-12 conference play. However, there’s hope for 2014-15. TCU has two intriguing transfers in Trey Zeigler (Pitt) and Chris Washburn (UTEP) and they return 13 players from last year. TCU is led by senior guard Kyan Anderson, tops on the team at 17.0 ppg. Their second leading scorer is also back in senior forward Amric Fields (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg.)

The series: Tied at 2-2. Last season, UTEP topped the Cougars by 13 points in Beasley. Lacy did not play due to injury, with Que Johnson scoring a game-high 21 points in the loss. Four UTEP players scored in double figures, with Hunter posting 15 points and eight rebounds.

The Horned Frogs lead the series 2-1 over WSU, which includes a 64-62 heartbreaker in Pullman last season, a 73-52 Cougar home victory in 2012-13 and an 86-83 TCU win at Fort Worth in 2002.

Familiar Faces: Ernie Kent is probably not going to be surprised by anything UTEP or TCU throws at the Cougs. Along with Floyd, TCU head coach Trent Johnson was the head man at Stanford from 2004-08 while Kent was at Oregon. Floyd was at USC from 2006-2010.

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