Loss to UW doesn’t dampen Ernie Kent’s optimism

WASHINGTON STATE’s 16th loss in a row on Wednesday to close out the basketball regular season wasn’t as close as the 99-91 final score -- the Cougs trailed by 27 points to the Huskies with 7:16 left in the game. But moments after the final buzzer in Seattle, Ernie Kent on the postgame radio show was already looking ahead with optimism to next week’s Pac-12 tournament.

“We have a chance -- I feel like we can match up with anybody in this conference,” Kent told WSU radio man Matt Chazanow in looking ahead to the conference tournament in Las Vegas. “We’ve seen the tournament, we’ve battled it, we’ve seen everything. This is no longer new guys, these are veteran guys now and we’re playing everybody on a neutral court so you don’t have to worry about anyone’s deafening crowd.”

Washington State (9-21, 1-17) in the first half against the Huskies methodically battled back from a 10-2 deficit to take a 19-18 lead. WSU extended the advantage to 30-25 with 6:35 left in the half but the Huskies went on a 23-8 run to close out the half. WSU quickly fell behind further in the second half, with Husky senior Andrew Andrews scoring a career-high 47 points on the night.

“The game to me got away from us in the last two minutes in the first half,” said Kent. “Ny (Redding) fouled Andrews, a 3-point shooter and he let that get away. Ike (Iroegbu) gave up two buckets to him going the wrong way on screens… Charles Callison takes a bad shot with 21 seconds left on the shot clock and then he turns around and we let Murray hit the 3-pointer without putting pressure on him… and I don’t mean to be calling guys out but that was the stretch.”

WSU found success in the paint, outscoring UW 40-32. Forward Josh Hawkinson led the Cougs with 23 points and 17 rebounds, tying his own single-season school record of 20 double-doubles while center Conor Clifford tied his WSU career high with 18 points. Hawkinson also led the Cougs in assists on Wednesday, with five.

WSU had 25 assists on 34 buckets, its most assists this season, and outrebounded UW 43-36.  But the Cougs also committed 12 first half turnovers, leading to 14 UW points. 

"There are some bright moments… these guys never gave up and I felt like they really battled to the end of the game here," said Kent.

Kent made it a point on the postgame radio show to thank the fans, saying there are better days ahead.

"It was a disappointing year for us, we know that. We fought through some things, we fought through some injuries. But I appreciate those fans in Pullman… the effort and all the things those people give to us in terms of energy and their patience as we build this thing," said Kent.

Up next: WSU opens the Pac-12 tournament as the 12th seed Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. against the No. 5 seed (still to be determined).

Carmento Floyd, wife of late WSU president Elson Floyd, was on hand and sitting behind the Cougar bench.  Marcus Trufant and Xavier Cooper were also in the stands.

WSU had four scorers in double figures, with Que Johnson scoring 20 points and Iroegbu adding 10 points.

Hawkinson moved into third place on WSU’s single-season rebounding list (303) and into ninth place on the career list (686).

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