Hawkinson calls out Cougar D after loss

PULLMAN — Soft. That’s how a clearly disappointed Josh Hawkinson described the Cougars’ defense after Washington State’s 92-71 loss to Utah.

"I think we just played soft today," said Hawkinson.

Utah shot 56 percent from the floor, and a scalding 63 percent in the second half in a game WSU never led and at one point trailed by 27 points.

“We just have to make a commitment and get stops on defense -- 92 points is too many points to get scored on,” Que Johnson said. “At the end of the day, it’s on us. I mean, everybody is good in the Pac-12. We just have to look at ourselves in the mirror and just buckle down, and get tougher, and get stops.”

Ernie Kent was quiet and reflective afterwards, calling it a “frustrating night.”  He made it a point to praise the crowd (2,717) calling it the “best crowd we’ve had since Gonzaga.”

Kent agreed with Hawkinson, saying the entire team effort on defense was soft, and that gives the rest of the conference a blueprint on how to beat the Cougars -- drive, rebound and play tougher than Washington State.

Kent, who is in his second year at Washington State, said he's been working to change the mentality since he arrived.

“I think it's a mentality the program has had - it's a mentality we've worked extremely hard to change, and we're just not there yet,” said Kent. “I take the responsibility for that because I've got to get this team mentally and physically tougher. Will it happen overnight? Probably not. Will it help when Val (Valentine Izundu) gets back? Probably so, but still we've got to get better as we march through the second half...of this conference.

"We have to get better.”

Anyone who watched the Cougars on Thursday night would have no argument with that. WSU was simply no match for the Utes from the opening tip, whether it was from beyond the arc (11-for-22) or in the paint, where Utah dominated WSU to the tune of 42-24. 

"Obviously a two is much better for you than giving up a three, but we weren't stopping the three and we weren't stopping the two either,” Kent said. “So, it was a very frustrating night to feel like you were handcuffed to do anything because you could not defend this team. And they played extremely hard but I'm not going to give that as the reason. I just don't think we're very good defensively right now."

In the post, Hawkinson and the rest of the Cougar big men struggled to stop Utah’s leading scorer, Jakob Poeltl  whose 14 points was slightly below his season average (16.3 ppg).  But with two other Utes topping the 20-point mark and three Utes besides Poelti in double figures, it hardly mattered.

“They've got an NBA player, future NBA player, down there in Jakob Poeltl,” Hawkinson said. “He was definitely hurting us because they were hitting from the outside so we couldn't exactly double down on him. So, we were kind of in a dilemma from that.”

Hawkinson and Johnson scored 16 points apiece, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep up with the Utes. Utah opened the game 5 of 5 from the floor and had opened up a 15-point lead at halftime. Johnson didn't want to make excuses for the loss

“They've got good bigs, good shooters -- I mean, it’s a Pac-12 team, everybody’s the same way: good bigs, good guards,” he said.

With Colorado on Saturday, Kent repeated what he said last week after the Cougs were swept by the Arizona schools.

"We’re going to have to play a lot, a lot tougher basketball,” Kent said.

The Cougars fell to 9-9 on the season and 1-5 in conference play.

WSU and Colorado tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday in Beasley (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

-WSU’s 28 first-half points were the second-fewest in any half this season.

-Utah's 11 3-pointers are the most by a WSU opponent this season.

-Johnson's 16 points marked his first game in double figures in his last four games.

-Charles Callison for the second game in a row scored 12 points (4 of 10 from the floor). He's scored in double figures four of his last five games.

-Hawkinson finished with eight rebounds, marking just the second time this season where he's gone two straight games without a double-double.

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