WSU hoops: Five takeaways

PULLMAN — After seven contests, CougFans were relieved to see DaVonte Lacy look like himself again in Game Eight. The senior guard exploded for 31 points in the win over UTSA on 10-15 shooting -- and Washington State (4-4) broke out of their shooting slump going 60.8 percent from the floor. But there was more to be gleaned on the Cougs than just what happens when they cash in on their open looks.

1. Live or die by the three pointer
Ernie Kent wants his teams pushing the ball and increasing the tempo throughout games. But he also likes his guys shooting the three-pointer -- a lot.

In the loss to Idaho last week, the Cougars attempted 30 three-pointers and only converted five of those shots. The very next game against UTSA, the Cougars also shot the ball 30 times -- and hit 18 of them, tying the all-time school record.

WSU on the season is shooting 63-190 (33.2 percent) from beyond the arc. They average 23.75 three-point attempts per game.

2. Cougs struggled breaking the press
Though the Cougars won by 20 points against UTSA on Saturday, they struggled at times against the Roadrunners’ press in the second half. Over the final 20 minutes, the Cougars turned the ball over 13 times against UTSA.

Kent said the Cougs work on beating the press in practice, looking to get quick scores. But practice and games have been two different things.

“Anytime a team presses you and have numbers in the backcourt, you need to attack them because you got numbers on them going the other way, we did not do that nearly enough (against UTSA),” Kent said.

3. Railey answers the call
Senior redshirt center Jordan Railey (pictured above) had had a quiet start to the season but that all changed in the final minute vs. UTSA. Railey posterized a UTSA defender at the end of the game with a dunk that sent the entire Cougar bench into orbit. The slam was the top play on ESPN’s Sports Center that night.

“If you (saw) my reaction, that was everything,” Lacy said. “Jordan’s really athletic for a seven footer…it was really impressive.”

But that jam didn’t exist in a vacuum. After being held scoreless with two rebounds in the loss to Idaho, Railey was a perfect four-of-four from the field vs. UTSA, with four rebounds and two blocks. The energy and confidence was apparent to Kent.

“All of these players from what they’ve been through the last couple years - the returning players, they’re fragile at times and you really have to be careful with how much you yell at them…you need to hold them accountable but they have to have confidence as well too,” said Kent.

4. Dunbar starting to find his game
Over the first seven games, true freshman Trevor Dunbar spent a good deal of time on the bench, seeing action in only three contests. But his 13 minutes in the UTSA game could signal the start of something.

Though the point guard didn’t attempt a field goal, he deftly controlled the tempo of the game and set up his teammates for quality shots. And he showed off his much-talked about passing skills with a no-look behind the back pass to a wide-open Dexter Kernich-Drew on the wing.

Kernich-Drew didn’t convert that shot but the play showed Dunbar is starting to gain confidence. Kent said Dunbar and freshman Jackie Davis are the two new faces on the Cougs who have struggled the most so far in adjusting to the new level of play. But after Dunbar’s two-assist, two-rebound night, Kent said there’s a chance his minutes could increase.

With the Cougars playing No. 9 Gonzaga on Wednesday, Dunbar said he’s ready for whatever the Zags throw at him.

“I’m really excited to see what they have,” Dunbar said. “I’ve been watching them on film and TV so I’m comfortable with it.”

5. Keep Ike on the wing
Since Kent moved sophomore guard Ike Iroegbu from the point to the two, Iroegbu’s production has increased. Against UTSA, Iroegbu hit four-of-five treys and finished with 14 points.

Iroegbu will still run the point at times, and did so against UTSA, but he was more effective off the ball. Kent’s system can naturally limit the point guard’s shot attempts in a game. And Iroegbu has shot the ball more consistently from the perimeter, something the Cougs have been in short supply of this season, save for the UTSA win.

Adding another scorer to this team is what Kent needs if the Cougars are going to have more nights this season like they did this past Saturday. Playing Iroegbu off the ball, from this chair, is one of the best ways to do that.

Next up: Gonzaga on Wednesday, Dec. 10. (Spokane Arena, ESPNU, 8 p.m.) Gonzaga (7-1) is ranked No. 8 in the AP poll, No. 9 in the Coaches poll. Gonzaga is coming off a three-point loss in overtime to No. 3 Arizona. WSU leads the series 98-50.

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