THIS WEEK IN WSU HOOPS

PULLMAN - If Washington State is to finish off the non-conference slate with a .500 record, they’ll have to earn it against UC Davis. The Aggies boast a 9-1 mark headed into Sunday's tilt and are ranked higher than the Cougs in the KenPom ratings. And it doesn’t take a lot of study to determine the player the Cougars will most need to shut down: UC Davis senior guard Corey Hawkins.

About UC Davis: Granted, UC Davis hasn’t exactly faced top-flight competition. But they’ve won four of five on the road this season and the only loss came at against Idaho (79-71) on Dec. 6 -- a team that beat WSU three days earlier by a nearly identical score (77-71.) The 2014 Aggies have started 9-1 twice in their 104 year history -- the only other Aggies team to do it was the 1997-98 squad. UC Davis won the Division II National Championship that season.

Hawkins leads the Aggies in scoring with 20.1 points a game. He is also shooting 50 percent from behind the three point line. He was chosen by CollegeInsider.com to its annual preseason All-America candidate list for the Lou Henson Award (presented annually to the player of the year at the Division I mid-major level.)

The Aggies are holding their opponents to 61.4 points a game (No. 83 nationally) but they’re shooting 50 percent from the field which ranks No. 13 in the country.

With Pac-12 play just around the corner, Ernie Kent has spoken often about the importance in finishing out non-conference play on a two-game winning streak and moving to 6-6.

WSU built some momentum last week in their 82-53 win against San Jose State -- the Cougars looked more comfortable in Kent’s system. But at least some of that needs to be attributed to a short-handed SJSU squad.

Have the Cougs fully adjusted to Kent’s up-tempo system? No, as evidenced by the first 10 minutes against SJSU where the two squads looked evenly matched before WSU pulled away. But the Cougs have also given some indication they’re getting there.

Redshirt sophomore Que Johnson (pictured above) played with more confidence in the win over the Spartans.

Johnson still isn’t that third scorer Kent is looking for yet but he played with more aggression -- attacking the basket more often and shooting the ball without hesitation.

From my chair, if he gets off to a good start, I can see Johnson taking the next step against UC Davis and building off that seven-point outing last time out.

Redshirt senior Dexter Kernich-Drew meanwhile scored 10 points and shot 50 percent against SJSU. As someone who has been up and down this season, and mostly down, it would be big for Washington State heading into Pac-12 play if Drew could put together strong back-to-back games.

What also emerged from last week: the WSU depth.

Ernie Kent played 12 last time out, translating to 34 points off the bench against SJSU. The more players Kent can utilize, the longer and better the Cougs can go up-tempo. Kent has preached often this season about his desire to employ a good-sized rotation, and we could see more of that game plan against UC Davis on Sunday.

The tip-off: Washington State (5-6) vs UC Davis (9-1) Sunday Dec. 28 at 3 p.m. PST at Beasley Coliseum. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. Thad Anderson (play-by-play) and Dan Dickau (color analyst) have the call.

The rankings: Ken Pomeroy has the Cougars ranked No. 202, and UC Davis at No. 150, in his 2015 College Basketball Rankings.

The series: This will be the first all meeting between the two programs.

Did you know: Sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounding with 10.5 rebounds a game. Nationally, he ranks third in defensive rebounds (8.3), sixth in total rebounds (115), and tenth in double-doubles (six) and rebounds per game (10.5).

WSU’s game against UC Davis marks the third consecutive game for the Cougs against a school from California. It will climb to five when the Cougars open up Pac-12 play at Stanford on Jan. 2, followed by a trip to Cal on Jan 4.

Cougfan Top Stories