WSU's Ernie Kent on passing of the torch

PULLMAN — Washington State seniors DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey this week will each deal with the challenge of not getting too high or too low for their final two games in Beasley. But the other 10 WSU players also have a challenge ahead of them, Ernie Kent said on Wednesday.

Kent said he has made one thing very clear to all the Cougar underclassmen this week: it’s very important they do everything they can to help WSU's seniors exit Beasley Coliseum with two victories to conclude the regular season. That will be tough with No. 13 Utah up first on Thursday night.

“My programs in the past, the seniors have done a terrific job of leading up until this point,” Kent said. “There’s a transition phase that’s getting ready to take place when seniors play their last game because I put that pressure on the underclassmen. It’s their job to make sure those seniors don’t lose at home.”

Kent also noted the Cougs' spring workouts for next season are just around the corner.

“This is huge, these games, in terms of how we handle the emotions, how we perform, how we compete, hopefully have the success and send these seniors out on the right way,” Kent said.

Kent at first declined to identify anyone in particular as a future leader but then referred to sophomores Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson and juniors Brett Boese and Junior Longrus (pictured above).

“Those are guys who have been through the fire,” Kent said. “This becomes their team and more so than it becomes a freshman’s team…although Ny Redding has been good this year in practice and being very vocal, his energy has really helped us a lot in practice. It’s the returning players that... have played the minutes, that have hit the big shots, that have been in the games.”

IF THE COUGS are to notch a monster upset over No.13-ranked Utah, Kent said major improvement must come from the Cougar defense and in the number of mental mistakes.

“We had a lot of mistakes in the game and they capitalized on all the mistakes ,” Kent said. “We did not do a very good job defensively.”

The Cougars lost 86-64 at Utah back on Jan. 21 as three Utes players scored in double figures.

“We’ve got to play a lot smarter, a lot tougher and a lot better defense,” Kent said. “The smartness is on the offensive part of the floor, the toughness is just the game in general and obviously the defense is on that end of the floor as well.”

Kent says his team is playing better defense than they were, citing the last two games at UCLA as USC as examples. He added that adjustments were made to the Cougs' defensive scheme, but kept silent as to what those specific adjustments were.

Boese also broke out of his shooting slump against the Bruins, he hit his first 3-pointer in seven games and finished shooting 2 of 3 from behind the 3-point line.

“We certainly need his jump shot and not only that I thought he played really well in the USC and particularly in the UCLA game... his energy and what he brought to the floor defensively," said Kent.

Hawkinson also seems to be getting his legs back, said Kent. The Shoreline Native has played over 30 minutes in 21 games this season but Kent said Hawkinson is basically a freshman this year due to the amount of minutes he averaged last season (6.4). Kent said there was a point earlier where those minutes were catching up to his 6-10 forward.

“Every freshman in the country hits the wall and at some point in time they have to learn how to crawl over that wall and get going again and that’s exactly what happened to Josh,” Kent said. “It is very, very difficult to have 18 double-doubles in a single year, I don’t care if you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or even a senior, that’s very tough to do.”

WSU will host Utah on Thursday at 8 p.m. PST, a game televised on ESPNU. The Cougars close out the regular season against Colorado on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in a game shown on the Pac-12 Networks.

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