Oregon just another opponent for WSU's Kent?

PULLMAN- It’s been a unique situation for Ernie Kent this week. On Monday he was rooting for Oregon, his alma mater and former employer, to win the National Championship in football. His relationships with some of the coaches there span as long as 40 years. But once the game ended, Kent put all that behind him, saying Oregon’s basketball team is just the next game up on the Cougars’ schedule.

Kent insisted in his press conference on Wednesday there would be no special meaning attached to the game for him, despite his 13 seasons in Eugene as the Ducks' head coach before he was let go in 2010.

“It’s the next opponent that’s there and you've got to get prepared for it,” Kent said. “We scout them, we break them down, we present them to our team and we go -- and then turn our attention to Oregon State.”

When breaking down Oregon, senior guard Joseph Young is player that catches everyone’s attention. Young is currently leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.4 points a game and has scored at least 20 points eight times this season.

“He’s quick off the dribble in shooting threes - he can beat you in the lane - he’s great at finishing at the basket,” Kent said. “What is really underrated about him is his ability to get up in the lane and get steals defensively.”

Kent added Young can get his points in different ways, which is tough to defend.

The Cougars will also be going up against another top shot blocker in Duck 6-8 freshman forward Jordan Bell. Just 16 games in, Bell has already claimed Oregon’s single-season record for blocked shots with 59. Bell has more blocked shots than 195 teams with five Pac-12 teams among them: Oregon State (57), Washington State (54), Arizona (54), Stanford (44) and Arizona State (37).

Kent said Bell is a different player than Washington’s 7-0 junior center Robert Upshaw.

“Upshaw is big and long and he can stand behind you and really dictate how you can score and change shots as well too,” Kent said. “Jordan Bell can come from the weak side - he can run you down in transition - he can come from the top of the key, he’s extremely active and athletic to where he can go get shots and go get the ball.”

After taking two of three on the road in conference play and sitting at third place in the Pac-12 standings, the Cougars may have finally found that identity Kent has talked about so often.

“I think we’re getting closer to it and if we can consistently defend people the way we want to defend, get stops, get out and run - obviously for us it’s the transition game but you have to be able to defend and do on a consistent basis,” Kent said. “If we can do that game in and game out then I would say yes, we’ve found that identity.”

Kent said he also wants part of WSU’s identity to be effective in multiple ways on offense. The Cougars have been effective playing up-tempo the past two games, wins over Cal and UW, and the next step is to conquer the half-court style of play.

“If we need to sit in that half-court we can be effective in the half-court as well too and that’s where the continue development of Jordan Railey, obviously Josh Hawkinson comes into play,” Kent said. “Josh has been consistent, if Jordan can be consistent that gives us an opportunity to really go at people inside with that size and that skill set of Josh and the size of Jordan.”

Hawkinson has been one of the most consistent players for the Cougars this season with an average of 15 points and 11 rebounds per game, posting 9 double-doubles along the way.

“It’s not like he had to gain this personality that ‘boy I really want the ball, I want to shoot it,’” Kent said. “Once he plugged into the system because the system will feed you if you have the skill set and he was able to see where he could score then he just basically relaxed and started playing basketball and not necessarily needing to be assertive - the ball finds him and he finds the ball enough as it is.”

Sophomore guard Ike Iroegbu is another player who has been playing with consistency of late. Iroegbu was a key player in the Cougars’ win over the Huskies in Seattle last weekend, scoring 13 points and dishing five assists.

“I think the biggest thing with Ike is the confidence is really starting to come number one,” Kent said. “Number two, he’s understanding how we need for him to play within the system and he’s accepted that -- and when you get a player that has his confidence and understands exactly what you need out of him and is willing to do it that’s when he really starts to come and that’s what you’re seeing with Ike.”

Kent mentioned the need for Iroegbu to play the way he did against UW every time out.

The Cougars host Oregon Thursday night at 8 p.m. followed by a tilt vs. Oregon State on Saturday at 6 p.m. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

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