Ernie Kent says Cougs continuing to run, share and shoot like in Italy -- and they're playing better defense

PULLMAN — They are who he thought they were. After a month of practices and a closed-door scrimmage last weekend against perennial March Madness contender Utah State, Washington State basketball coach Ernie Kent says his Cougars continue to run, share and shoot like they did over the summer on their Italian tour.

The Cougs are also playing better defense, Kent told CF.C this week.

“Improving on a defense requires a day in, day out grind and we’re seeing that progress. We’re really focusing on the detail stuff to improve our consistency,” he said.

Among those details: improving communication on defense and cleaning up the holding and grabbing in the post that the NCAA says it will be policing to a greater degree this season.

“I still feel like we’re too physical in the post and perimeter and we have to clean that up,” Kent said.

Closed-door scrimmages, a.k.a. secret scrimmages, are just that, so Kent didn’t go into detail on how the Cougs performed against Utah State. But he did say his club looked like the one that ran, passed and scored in Italy. And that they played better defensively.

“Consistency is starting to take hold. We’ve taken the momentum from Italy into practices, scrimmages and now a closed-door scrimmage,” Kent said.

The next step is take it to the floor of Friel Court in front of an audience. That will come this Sunday at 5 p.m. when the Cougars host Carroll College of Montana in an exhibition game. They'll then open the true regular season at home on Nov. 11 against Montana State.

"We have excellent buy in. They’ve been excellent at doing everything we’ve asked them to do,” Kent said of his team, which is split equally between veterans and newcomers.

Kent said seniors Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu, Conor Clifford and Charles Callison are bringing stability and consistency to the mix while second-year players Derrien King, Robert Franks and Viont'e Daniels and freshman point guard Malachi Flynn are “starting to string together” one excellent practice after another.

“They’re really starting to play outstanding basketball,” said Kent.

NOTABLE: Kent said touted freshman guard Milan Acquaah, who underwent knee surgery over the summer, is on pace to be cleared for practice late this month.

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