KENT: WSU's Izundu giving Cougs good UW look

PULLMAN- Washington State junior center Valentine Izundu will not play against Washington on Saturday, he's sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. But the 6-11, 215-pound big man could still have a decided impact on the outcome.

Izundu (pictured above, center, with goggles) is helping the Cougars (7-7, 1-1) prepare for their upcoming matchup against Washington, says Ernie Kent. Specifically, in practice Izundu is giving his team a preview of what they will face in UW junior center and shot block specialist, Robert Upshaw.

“He’s not as big as Upshaw….we think he (Izundu) has an opportunity to be one of the best shot blockers in the country next year,” Kent said. “He’s 6-11, he has over a seven foot wingspan - he is a tremendous athlete that tries to go get everything. He’s had some incredible plays in practice so that’s been a blessing that we’ve had a guy that throws a lot of shots out there in practice (so) it shouldn’t be surprising when you see a center the caliber of Upshaw sitting in there.”

Kent added that Upshaw isn't just a shot blocker, but a center who can keep players in front him on the defensive end and can score on offense.

The 7-0, 250 pound Husky center is averaging 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game this season.

“The biggest thing is playing with confidence and realize, particularly with guards and things of that nature, you've got to be careful thinking you've got to go in there and attack that kind of (size),” Kent said. “I’m not so much concern with big on big - we’ve played that before.”

UW sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss (13.7 ppg, 6.7 apg) is another player the Cougars will need to contain. Kent didn’t want to talk in detail about whether the Cougs would need to focus on stopping Williams-Goss, but he did talk about Williams-Goss’ play this season.

“He is an outstanding point guard that loves to push the pace,” Kent said. “It should be a very fast basketball game because they want to get up and down and we want to get up and down.”

Though Williams-Goss and Upshaw have been big contributors for Washington (11-3, 0-2) this season, Kent noted that his team must scheme against the entire UW men’s basketball team.

“I know they don’t want to start out the conference 0-3 so they’re going to be jacked up and ready to go,” Kent said. “Those are more of the concerns for us, more so than one particular guy on the floor it’s how we handle ourselves in a game of this magnitude.”

With the Cougars snapping their 15-game Pac-12 road losing streak against Cal on Sunday, the next step is getting over .500, something that has eluded WSU this season. Kent said the team just needs to keep it simple: just win games.

“Winning gets you over the hump and as a coach the thing we focus in on is just the accountability, the detail in practice - playing hard, everybody doing what they need to do to take care of their bodies and putting in their time,” Kent said. “It still comes down to playing games and this is a team again that had a tough going in the preseason with our schedule that we tried to manage as best as we could.

“Opening up (with( three conference games on the road in conference play is never easy,” Kent said. “We played well at Stanford for half a game, we played well at Cal for an entire game and the focus for us right now is making sure we just handle ourselves (Saturday) and play well for 40 minutes.”

Redshirt senior center Jordan Railey has taken a big leap forward of late. In the last four games, Railey is averaging 12.0 points and two blocks per game. Kent said Railey’s improvement has in turn benefited the Cougs' perimeter game.

“Anytime you can go inside and get points it frees teams from locking in on your guards,” Kent said. “Normally you will find teams where you have a non-scoring big guy. They’ll just play behind him and dare you to throw the ball into him and then they will sit your guards which doesn’t give them a lot of freedom and movement to get open.”

Junior guard Brett Boese has also seen his minutes and production increase. The Spokane native came off the bench for the Cougars against Cal and contributed six points. The past three games, he’s averaged 6.6 points a game.

“I think the biggest thing with Brett is the fact that he’s really calmed down and accepted his role,” Kent said. “By 'calm down' I think he’s a player that at times has played with nervous energy and he has been Mr. Consistency in terms of knowing what it is he needs to do to get on the floor and stay on the floor.

"He’s not the best athlete but if you break him down and watch he does, he runs as hard as he can every single time, he defends as hard as he can every single time and he’s a guy that can make baskets for you...I’m very proud of him in the fact that his confidence has come. He’s playing at a different level than he was when we first came in the door here.”

The Cougars play Washington in Seattle this Saturday at 12 p.m. PST. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

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