WSU hoops: Kent looking for winning adjustments vs. UW

PULLMAN – Saturday’s Apple Cup of hoops will mark the halfway point in Washington State's men's basketball season. And win or lose, the Cougars at season’s midpoint will be above .500 for the first time since the 2012-13 season. WSU has already defeated a ranked opponent (No. 25 UCLA) and sometimes that leads to a next game lull. Ernie Kent, though, isn’t worried about his team’s focus.

“What happened last week is a non-factor in what’s coming up on this Saturday,” said Kent. “There’s some things we need to do better, and we’re focusing on getting better in those areas and the fact that you have your rival school coming to play too.”

With a  record of 9-5, Washington State has played but two Pac-12 games.  But headed into the second half of the regular season, Kent said the non conference slate and first two conference games have let him know what he has in a squad that features seven new faces including junior college transfers and true freshman, along with the WSU veterans. 

And because there are so many new faces, that “standout guy” can change after every practice, Kent said. He ticked off a few Cougs and what they’ve doing well through 14 games.

“(Junior) Charles Callison, his poise, his ability to score, his strength that stands out to me,” said Kent. “(Sophomore) Derrien King - now that he’s healthy - his skill level, his ability to shoot it, put it on the floor and do those things. (Junior) Josh Hawkinson just continues to amaze me … (fourth-year junior) Conor Clifford (is) just an automatic in low post scoring.

“The guys show me different things at different times that I’m real pleased with, but probably the biggest thing that I’m pleased with is just how hard they continue to work for us and how they allow us to make adjustments.”

The biggest adjustment came after a beat down loss to USC, Kent said. The Cougs did not play well, but they made adjustments and 48 hours later knocked off UCLA and looked crisp doing it. Now, Kent said the focus is on that old coaching watchword: consistency.

The most obvious factor in any Cougars’ success this season has been forward Josh Hawkinson – he was a prolific double-double man last season during a breakout sophomore campaign and he’s doing it again this year. Before Kent even arrived in Pullman, he said, he knew Hawkinson would fit his system nicely when he was serving as a Pac-12 Networks analyst.

“I saw a guy that wasn’t used much, but I saw his skill set,” Kent said. “He was the guy that stuck out to me. He started to remind me of the … European stretch-four men that I’ve had a chance to coach while at Oregon … That’s the most difficult position to find in the system we play.”

Kent said his “fours” over the years, normally a power forward, could rebound and stretch the floor shooting. But Hawkinson is unique.

“When you duplicate the mold, you try to find a little bit better, and we found a little bit better in Josh Hawkinson,” Kent said.

Hawkinson is on pace to break his program-record single-season double-double record (20) he set last year – he’s on pace for 25 in a 30-game season, although the competition in the second half is greater than the non conference slate allowed.

If Hawkinson can log a double-double against the Huskies, he’ll also set WSU’s all-time consecutive single-season double-double mark. Coming off the win over UCLA, Hawkinson shares the record of nine with Steve Puidokas (1975-76). 

Hawk and the Cougars take on the Huskies Saturday at noon in Pullman (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

The Huskies (10-4, 2-0) are coming off a pair of upset wins over USC and UCLA and are atop the conference standings as the Pac-12’s only undefeated team in conference play.

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