Would UW sweep bolster Cougs' WA recruiting?

PULLMAN — For Ernie Kent, sweeping the Huskies this Sunday would go beyond taking two in a row from the in-state rival. A win would help bolster Kent's message to in-state recruits, particularly those in the Puget Sound region.

Kent this week said the Cougs' in-state recruiting profile, particularly on the west side of the state, would be enhanced with a win Sunday. Kent pointed to the Cougs playing Gonzaga tougher than many expected in his first season at the helm in Pullman, combined with the potential sweep over Washington.

“I want to be able to show all those young players over there that there's another outstanding program option in this state...With (WSU's) style of play and that fact that we’ve had some success this year early on, I think it sends a huge message for us in terms of recruiting that you can win over here - you can play exciting basketball,” Kent said.

The Cougs knocked off UW in Seattle on Jan. 10 (pictured above). Washington State has not swept Washington on the basketball court since the 2010-2011 season.

“It’s not going to be an easy game by any means,” Kent said. “They’re rivalry games for a reason, you really do throw the records out the window. The fact that it’s a rivalry game there will be a different intensity on their part that we’re going to have to handle as well.”

While playing a team the second time in a season doesn't usually require major game plan adjustments, Sunday's tilt will be an exception.

Robert Upshaw, the Huskies' 7-0 center who led the nation in blocked shots and was averaging 10.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, was dismissed from the team on Jan. 26 after breaking team rules. Kent said that changes things.

“We’re going to have to make some adjustments for their personnel with what they have now and what they didn’t have before,” Kent said. “With only one game (this week) it gives Washington a chance to regroup, work on some things, maybe add a few things -- and it certainly gives us a chance to regroup, work on some things and add a few things as well.”

With Upshaw's dismissal, Kent said the Huskies have gone from having a stout inside presence to a better scoring team with a smaller lineup out on the floor.

“They’re a quicker team, a faster team up and down the floor,” Kent said. “I would almost want to say (a) better defensive team on the perimeter, but they don’t have the inside presence when you talk about having the number one shot blocker in the country.”

Kent added that Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, whom he considers a good friend, and his staff have made the necessary adjustments to put the Huskies in position to win. Those wins haven't come but in three of their past six losses, the Huskies have lost by six points or less.

Romar is under fire from fans and media after UW has gone from an 11-0 team ranked in the top 15 to 14-11 and little to no chance to go the NCAA tournament. Some have gone so far as to predict a change will be made this offseason that would end Romar's 13-year reign as the Huskies' head coach. Kent compared his tenure at Oregon to Romar's situation and how a by-product of success can also result in new, hard-to-meet expectations.

"You build this monster and then you've got to continue to feed it," said Kent.

The Cougs on Sunday will have to contend with sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss torched WSU the first time around, scoring 30 points on 13-22 shooting in the Cougs' 80-77 win in Seattle. Kent joked about hoping Williams-Goss misses the team bus.

“There’s not a lot we can do (to contain him), he is who he is,” Kent said. “We just hope we can keep in check and hopefully he doesn’t have another monster game like he had over there (against us) because we had no answers for him whatsoever.”

Williams-Goss in his last three games has scored 20-, 7- and 13-points (ASU, UA, OSU).

Though the Cougars suffered a 27-point loss to Arizona last time out, Kent said his team’s confidence level is still high.

“This team has been really good at coming back from adversity,” Kent said. “We’ve faced it quite a bit this year already in some blow out games and in some tough losses... I would fully expect them to bounce back for this game.”

WSU will host Washington at 5:30 p.m. PST on Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPNU and on the WatchESPN app.

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