Kernich-Drew blazing his way to the finish

JOSH HAWKINSON’S double-double proficiency this season has elevated him into the pantheon of Washington State scoring and rebounding legends Jim McKean, Steve Puidokas and Mark Hendrickson. But over the last five games there’s been another statistical fire burning. Dexter Kernich-Drew isn't just hot right now. He's blazing -- and coach Ernie Kent says it's all about freedom.

Since Feb. 5, when he scored zero points and took no shots in 9 minutes of action against Oregon State, Kernich-Drew has gone on a five-game tear in which he’s drilled 20 of 33 shots from beyond the arc -- a whopping 60.6 percent rate of accuracy -- and 30 of 54 (55.5 percent) overall.

"I told the seniors: 'lead us down the stretch, leave the blueprint of what it looks like, let it go, have fun,'" Kent told on Thursday. "Dexter freed himself up. He's playing like he has nothing to lose. He needed to do that early on, but we're blessed that he's there now -- he's a really, really good player."

Helping fuel the fifth-year senior's bright finish is his mom and sister. They were both in the stands for the Cougars' last two games, and will be on hand for the next two plus the Pac-12 Tournament, Kent said.

In the last five games, Kernich-Drew has posted some of the best single-game point totals of his career: 19 Wednesday at USC, 20 against Arizona, 27 against Arizona State and 18 at Oregon. In the one game in the streak when he didn’t hit double-figures -- at home vs. UW on Sunday -- he still connected on 2 of 3 from downtown.

The outburst of proficiency from 3-point land has elevated Kernich-Drew to No. 2 in the conference in long-range accuracy. For the season, he’s hitting 46.3 percent, just behind league leader Anthony Brown of Stanford, who’s connecting on 46.5 percent of his 3-pointers.

To fully grasp the streak Kernich-Drew is on, consider the stat line of his last five games vs. his preceding five:

  • Avg. points per game: 18.0 vs. 4.2
  • 3-pointers: 20 of 33 vs. 4 of 7
  • Total shots: 30 of 54 vs. 6 of 10
  • Rebounds: 13 vs. 4
  • Avg. minutes: 28.0 vs. 15.8

    "Mind boggling -- that's exactly what it is," Kent said of the offensive outpouring.

    AS FOR HAWKINSON, THE sophomore's remarkable year just grows more impressive. He leads the Pac-12 in rebounding, with an average of 10.7 per game; is fourth in scoring, at 14.4 points per game; third in free throw percentage at .846; tied for seventh in blocks (33); and is 13th in field goal percentage at .483.

    "He's the second-most improved player (from last season) in the nation. Look at his numbers compared to others in the nation," Kent said.

    "He's playing here, not at Kentucky. People need to understand what is evolving here -- we need to get people into our building to become an energy source for the team."

    Against USC on Wednesday, Hawkinson posted his 17th double-double of the season, tying him with McKean for No. 1 on WSU’s single-season list. McKean set the record in 1967, breaking his own mark from 1966 and -- until now -- had only been challenged three other times: by Puidokas in 1975 and ’76 and Hendrickson in 1995.

    NEXT UP:
    The Cougars play at UCLA on Sunday (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1). The Cougars are 12-15 overall and 6-9 in Pac-12 play while the Bruins are 17-12 and 9-7. The Cougars will host Utah and Colorado next week to close out the regular season. The Pac-12 Tournament will run from March 11-14 in Las Vegas.

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