WSU HOOPS: Que Johnson throws out the book

PULLMAN — It’s been a transition for everyone in Ernie Kent’s first season at Washington State but nowhere has it been more evident as with two Cougar guards: Que Johnson and Dexter Kernich-Drew. For Johnson, finding a measure of success has involved throwing out “the book" at times.

Besides improving his conditioning, Johnson (pictured above) says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is to learn to play more freely -- rather than abiding by the book 100 percent of the time.

Johnson, a redshirt-sophomore, told CF.C recently that he's found a comfort level of late after struggling to pick up Ernie Kent's system and scheme. It showed in the win over Stanford when Johnson scored 14 points. But it’s still a process, illustrated by a pair of inconsistent outings against Oregon State and Oregon where Johnson scored six and 10 points, respectively.

Kent changed up his lineup to start Johnson over freshman guard Ny Redding since the Stanford game. But Kent's comments last week were also telling, seeming to imply Johnson still needs to bring it every day in practice.

“Que showed us in the last game his ability to really be a star in this conference -- I would love to see him come out with that same kind of intensity today in practice," Kent said after the Stanford win. "And obviously in this game we need firepower so to say he's going to start or not, we make those decisions the day before the game.”

“I just have to be more aggressive, just attack more… going to the rack, finding my shot,” Johnson says.

The Pontiac, Mich. native says those instructions are directly from Kent.

“For me it’s all about a rhythm so I just tell myself to get in a rhythm more by attacking and then shooting, so that’s what I focus on,” he said.

Johnson credited Kent for helping him through his early season shooting slump. And the message was simple: shoot your way out of it. The more shots you hit the more confidence you’ll have going forward, Johnson says Kent told him.

An area Johnson needs to improve on, he said, is rebounding. He’s averaging 2.6 rpg this season. His season high of 11 rebounds came in the Cougars’ first game of the season against UTEP.

“I think I should help Josh (Hawkinson) because he gobbles up all the boards so that would just give him an extra body to help him more,” Johnson said.

ANOTHER COUGAR GUARD, fifth-year senior Kernich-Drew, has also been gaining confidence in recent games. The biggest adjustment he says he’s had to make under Kent is similar: to be more aggressive and make plays on both ends of the court.

“He doesn’t want us to be stagnant out there,” Kernich-Drew said. “He wants us to be confident and being able to feel like they can go out there and make a play even for themselves or for our teammate and what not.”

After averaging 22.2 minutes a game last season, Kernich-Drew has seen his minutes this year decrease to 14.4. He did play a season high 28 minutes against Stanford and scored a season-high 18 points in the loss at Oregon.

“Being a captain I just kind of got to do my job and if that’s me having to take seat back to some other guys performing better I just got to do what I can to make sure I help us win out there on the court,” Kernich-Drew said. “Everyone is out there trying to win, they’re always to get their numbers and what not, so we’re just trying to reach our goals and make the NCAA Tournament and that’s what I’m trying to do is help us when I get out there.”

After serving under Ken Bone for four seasons, Kernich-Drew said the biggest difference in his final year with Kent is adjusting to the high level of energy each and every day.

“Coach Kent is a very enthusiastic guy which I think helps a lot of the players on our team,” Kernich-Drew said. “It gets them to come to practice willing to work hard and it makes the game a lot more enjoyable. And the atmosphere he’s brought by involving us in the community a lot more and involving himself it’s just obviously a joy.

“We’ve had some better crowds than we’ve had in the last couple years and I just think the atmosphere that’s come because of him being here and being so vocal and... charismatic… it’s just helped lift our confidence with our games.”

  • Senior guard DaVonte Lacy has moved into ninth on WSU’s career scoring list with 1,412 points, passing Brian Quinnett (1985-89) and Jim McKean (1966-69).

  • Junior guard Brett Boese fell from No.7 at the start of the week to No. 14 in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goal percentage following the Oregon homestand.

  • Hawkinson’s 15 double-doubles this season lead the conference and tie for third most in WSU history. He leads the Pac-12 in rebounds (10.8); defensive rebounds (8.33) and also has a streak of 24 straight free throws made, third-most by a Cougar since the 1989-90 season.

  • Next up: WSU hosts Arizona State on Friday at 8 p.m. (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

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