KENT: To find identity, Cougs need better D

PULLMAN- Six games into the season, the Cougs are still searching for their identity, Ernie Kent said Monday. In order to establish that identity, Kent said it starts with defense.

Specifically, the defense has to be operating at a high enough level where the team gains confidence, and that in turn feeds the Cougs’ transition game, said Ernie Kent.

“I think we’re starting to figure out who we are and when you can do that, players can settle into a routine and play a little bit better,” Kent said.

Sophomore post Josh Hawkinson seems to have settled into his routine, and senior guard DaVonte Lacy might be on the verge of doing so. Lacy and Hawkinson helped the Cougs bounce back in the final two games of the Great Alaska Shootout, securing a fourth place finish.

“I think it (Lacy’s performance) gives everybody a lot of confidence,” Kent said. “I think when I look at his game and Josh Hawkinson’s game….they were quiet numbers, you didn’t see anybody force anything or push an issue.”

Following a horrendous opening round loss to UC Santa Barbara where WSU shot 3 of 33 in the first half, Hawkinson cashed in a team-high 27 points in the win over Rice, followed by Lacy’s 31 in the win over Missouri State.

“They got (their points) in a number of ways: beat them in transition, a lay-up, a three pointer here or there, out of set offense,” Kent said. “When you can start to score in so many different ways I think it gives (Lacy’s) teammates confidence and I think it gives him confidence as well too.”

Freshman point guard Ny Redding (pictured above) also played a vital role, finishing the tournament with a team-high 21 assists.

“That’s a lot of assists,” Kent said. “So there’s somebody who can get people the ball.”

Kent also stressed how important it is to have solid guard play. If not, the Cougs will go nowhere this season.

“It can be from the YMC level up to the NBA , you’ve got to have guard play,” Kent said. “The one constant in all your championship teams, be it men’s, women’s basketball, NBA, college, high school - they all have good guard play and it’s just imperative we have good guard play and it starts at that point guard position.”

Kent started Redding over struggling senior guard Dexter Kernich-Drew against Rice and MSU, which allowed sophomore guard Ike Iroegbu play on the wing. It also keeps Redding at the point, which Kent said is best for the team. Though Iroegbu started the season playing point guard, Kent thinks he is better playing off the ball.

“Now you can use his skill set -- his speed, his athleticism, his ability to get to the hole vs. running a team where you really don’t get a chance to use that,” Kent said. “To his credit, he’s bought into it and now here comes his game.”

Iroegbu scored a combine 22 points and 11 assists playing off the ball in those two games. However, Kent said he plans to play Iroegbu at multiple positions.

“He’ll get moved over and he’ll play the one, he’ll play the two, he’ll play the three,” Kent said. “There will be games where we’ll have him at the four even with that small lineup on the floor. He’s so good in the open court, particularly attacking, that’s he’s just a weapon.

Kent said he plans to keep Redding in the starting lineup at the point, Iroegbu over on the wing along with Lacy, with Hawkinson and Junior Longrus in the post -- as long as the group is producing results.

“It’s the group we’re going with now as we try to again find out who we are and our identity,” Kent said.

But when the Cougs go against teams with dominate post players, like Gonzaga, Kent said he’ll need redshirt Jordan Railey to step into a starting role and be on his “A” game.

The Cougs play Gonzaga Dec. 10 . In the Cougs’ two games beforehand, Kent said he’s looking for Railey, as well as sophomore Que Johnson and Kernich-Drew, to step it up. WSU hosts Idaho on Wednesday (7 p.m.) and UTSA on Saturday (12 p.m.) Both games will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

“I know what I’m going to get out of DaVonte, Ny, Ike, Josh,” Kent said. “I need a couple more.”

WSU is plenty familiar with Idaho (2-3 ) due to several pickup games over the summer. Last season, the Cougars eked out a one point victory over the Vandals in Moscow. Kent said he expected more of the same in Wednesday’s game, one that will come down to the wire.

“I’d rather have a game where you… fight like crazy…than a game where you’re sitting there just running somebody up and down the floor,” Kent said. “This is going to be a big challenge for us, but it’s a game we need (to win) coming off the road with some success.”

Kent said Aaron Cheatum was also benched in the first half against UCSB, along with Redding and Johnson, for being late to a team meeting. “These guys need to understand they're held accountable to their academics, held accountable to being on time -- this is an important lesson for them now and it's going to be an important lesson for them in life,” said Kent. “And the fact that they held up 22 other people…that are in our team meeting and not come on time: No. 1, it's disrespectful; No. 2 you've got to understand the importance of this and what we're trying to get done out here. The message was sent, it was received and probably cost us a game one way or another and if we learn something from it, that's OK.”

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