Kent hopes they throw kitchen sink at Hawk

PULLMAN - After Josh Hawkinson’s latest impressive outing this young season -- 26 points and 15 rebounds in his first career start -- teams are bound to try and take Hawkinson out of the game, or at least try to limit him. So why is Ernie Kent smiling?

That’s because it will open up Kent’s offense more, and because Hawkinson (pictured above) is not just a big body in the post trying to take up space.

“I hope they do have to pay more attention because that should open up the perimeter game more,” Ernie Kent said. “One of the reason’s he’s become more of a focal point is a lot of teams will play behind the bigs and sit on your guards. (But) now they can’t play behind him because he can score -- he can score inside, you can move him to the outside. Imagine a 6-8, 6-9 guy that has to chase him off the screen the way he shoots the ball.”

Hawkinson averaged 6.4 minutes in 28 games last year, and just 0.85 shot attempts per game. What little opponents saw of him was primarily a big body in the paint whose contribution on offense was mainly to set screens. But Hawkinson has developed into a completely different player with an expanded role for the Cougars this season.

“He can shoot threes, he’s can trail the break, you can bring him up for double teams, and he frees you up over the floor because now you’ve got weapons everywhere with that smaller lineup on the floor,” said Kent. “You literally can put five guys on the floor that can shoot the three -- and that’s what we're kind of moving towards.”

That doesn’t mean, Kent added, that he’s necessarily moving away from Junior Longrus or Jordan Railey, saying they are “going to be very important also with all this success.”

Kent said if teams do overplay Hawkinson, the Cougs need to make them pay the price. And that will become much easier if leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Que Johnson are on their games at the same time.

“It just adds to your offensive fire power -- and we definitely need some more offensive fire power,” Kent said.

The Cougars open play in the Great Alaska Shootout tournament on Thursday night vs. UC Santa Barbara at 9:00 p.m. PST (CBS Sports Network). The Gauchos (1-2) lone victory is over Masters College, an NAIA school, but don’t be fooled. UCSB hung tough with No. 11 Kansas (69-59) and lost in overtime to Florida Gulf Coast (4-0).

“They’re a very good defensive team,” Kent said. “They’re a very patient offensive team, a potential pro inside (Alan Williams), who’s going to be very tough for us to shut down and handle-- and they shoot the ball well. So it’s going to be a tough matchup for us, but I’m sure they’re going to be looking at us and seeing some things that they’re going to have to deal with us as well.”

If the Cougars win in the first round, they’ll play the winner of Rice-Mercer on Friday (CBSSN, 9 p.m. PST) If they lose, they play the loser of Rice-Mercer at 3 p.m. PST on Friday (No TV).

Regardless of the outcomes, the Cougars will play three games spread over Thursday-Friday-Saturday.

In tournament situations such as this, Kent stressed the importance of having quality players to turn to beyond the starting five.

“Three games in three days is going to be hard on anybody’s body particularly with the travel for all of these teams coming up there.” Kent said. “This is where your depth, your bench is going to be huge -- and obviously even style of play will be huge in terms of making sure you have the energy to get through the three days.”

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