WSU's Kent expects different look from Cal

PULLMAN — Ernie Kent won’t be showing the Cougs film from the 32-point beatdown at Colorado until they face the Buffaloes again in March. Kent said he's instead focusing all his attention on the task ahead this week -- Round Two with the Bay Area schools in the Pac-12. The Cougs, Kent said, will be facing a new weapon on the Golden Bears this Thursday.

Ernie Kent said he won’t need to go in-depth and thorough in terms of preparation since the Cougars have already faced both Cal and Stanford this season. But Kent sounded wary of California sophomore guard Jabari Bird.

After suffering a stress fracture in his left foot and missing a total of 10 games this season, Bird will be back in the lineup. Bird did not play in the 69-66 loss against the Cougars on Jan. 2. He has played in the last four games for the Golden Bears (all losses) and has seen his minutes increase in each game. Bird is averaging 3.2 points since his return.

“There is a difference (in terms of preparation) because that’s another guy that can really put up points for them and he’s starting to find his rhythm, play a little bit better each game,” Kent said. “So it will be some different preparation for us just in terms of game planning and things like that knowing that he’s back and that he’s going to be even better than he was say a couple weeks ago when you saw them play.”

Prior to his injury, Bird was averaging 11.6 points a game.

“He’s a guy that can score inside, outside he’s tough to matchup with because he’s strong and skilled enough to put it on the floor,” Kent said. “I think people have yet to see the real Jabari Bird just because he’s not been on his game due to the injuries and everything.”

California sophomore guard Jordan Matthews did play in the loss to the Cougars and scored 24 points in the Cougs' 69-66 win. In conference play, Matthews is averaging 18.8 points a game and has hit 22 three pointers. The Cougars have yet to contain their opponent’s top scorer.

“Defensively I’ve felt like we’ve struggled all year long - that was a game where we played them there and it wasn’t bad (defensively) and he still had a big game,” Kent said. “He is a very difficult player to shut down because he can get rolling … he shoots the ball so well and shoots it so deep. The biggest thing is just making sure you stay between him and the basket…if you’re a split second late he lets it go and he’s pretty pure with his shot.”

Similar to the Cougars, the Golden Bears enter Thursday’s game on a losing streak. Despite finishing non-conference play with a 10-3 record and an win in their conference opener against UW, California has dropped their last six games.

“I think it’s a coaching staff (that’s) going through the Pac-12 Conference for the first time,” Kent said. “The preseason is different than the conference because teams can sit on top of your offense - they tend to take things away. Teams know your personnel - they know your building.” Kent added the Cougs must be ready Thursday because any team is beatable on any night in this conference.

The Cougars have had their struggles on defense so far this season by giving up an average of 75.5 points a game which ranks No. 343 in the country. Kent said his team is playing better offensively in conference play. But …

“Our bodies are our bodies - we haven’t figured out that piece - that may come later on down the road for us but we certainly work at it hard every day,” Kent said. “So we’re going to have to junk or gimmick it a little bit - you see us full court pressing, you see us zoning, you’ll see us manning, it just depends on the opponent.”

It may seem like a long time ago when the Cougs upset Cal at Berkeley (pictured above) but it was only a little more than three weeks ago, on Jan. 4, when Washington State snapped their 15-game Pac-12 road game losing streak. Jordan Railey scored 17 points on 7-14 shooting and Josh Hawkinson led the Cougs with 18 points (6-10) and 13 rebounds.

The Cougars host Cal on Thursday at 8 p.m. PST. WSU then welcomes Stanford to town on Saturday at 5:30 PST. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

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