USATodaySports/Jacobson

Ernie Kent keeping upbeat with Izundu return, but banged up Cougs plumb new depths

ERNIE KENT CHOSE to emphasize the positives after Washington State’s 67-55 setback at home to ASU, the Cougars’ ninth straight loss. There wasn’t much to choose from.

Forward Josh Hawkinson, WSU’s leading scorer, didn’t play with an injured ankle. Center Conor Clifford injured his ankle in the second half and had to be helped off the court.  Forward Junior Longrus was also dinged up but gutted out 13 minutes against ASU because, as Kent said on the postgame radio show, “he knew we needed him out there.”

Kent's primary source for optimism after the game? Forward Valentine Izundu returned for the first time since the Cougs’ losing streak began -- and the fourth-year junior performed admirably.  Izundu tied career highs in both points and rebounds, scoring 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting, and pulled down seven boards and blocked three shots in 24 minutes.

Kent said afterwards that Washington State (9-14, 1-10 Pac-12)  might not be shouldering a nine-game losing streak if Izundu hadn't injured his foot back at the start of Pac-12 play. He also said the Cougs have shown progress this year despite now needing to win six of their final seven games to match WSU's Pac-12 win total from last season (seven).

"I thought there were some games we could have won if we'd had his presence on the floor.. I thought about what Arizona did to us last year on this floor and yet we went down to McHale and we played them tough down there, and we come back and get them here and feel like we're right in the game with them here -- that's progress for us considering where we were last year," said Kent.

But there is no hiding the fact WSU lost by double digits, at home on Saturday, to an ASU team that not only sits in 11th place in the conference standings, but also had only eight healthy/eligible scholarship players available in Pullman.

Washington State committed 17 turnovers, and allowed 16 offensive rebounds to ASU. The Cougs missed point-blank shots, including a wild layup attempt that failed to even draw rim. ASU is 10th in the conference in 3-pointers, connecting on 7.8 per game - and they made 7 in the first half against WSU.  The Sun Devils shot a paltry 26.5 percent in the second half, yet somehow outscored the Cougars 27-23 over the final 20 minutes.

WSU gets to the free-throw line the least of any team in the Pac-12 but Saturday was especially head-turning: the Cougs attempted only eight shots from the stripe, compared to ASU's 25.

Point guard Charles Callison led the Cougars with 15 points (6 of 14 shooting).  Guard Ike Iroegbu finished with 10 points on 3 of 6 shooting.

Kent said he didn’t know immediately how severe Clifford’s ankle injury was and that he had already been sent out for x-rays.  Kent said he hoped Hawkinson and Longrus would be back in time for Thursday’s game at Colorado but that he wouldn't have a good feel for their availability, or Clifford's, until early next week.

“There’s still a lot of basketball left for us to play and we need to get over this hump,” said Kent.  "Until you're at full strength, you're not at full strength... We've got some games left and there are some things we need to get accomplished before we get to the (Pac-12) tournament."

Next up for WSU:  at Colorado , Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. PT.

NOTABLE NOTE:
The last time WSU lost nine straight games in basketball was during the 2012-13 season. The last time WSU lost 10 straight was in 2002-03, the final year of Paul Graham's stint in Pullman, when the Cougs dropped 14 straight.


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