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Cougar Basketball Notebook: Just how important is Robert Franks?

WHEN IT COMES to youngsters, Malachi Flynn rightfully has attracted most of the attention so far in this Cougar basketball season. But WSU’s last two games – a victory over Oregon State and a loss to Oregon – tell me we’re going to be increasingly talking about sophomore forward Robert Franks as well.

In those two contests, the pride of Evergreen High in Vancouver contributed a collective 17 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists and turned in some workman-like defense.

As this season has unfolded, he’s played with greater and greater confidence. And from this chair, the last two games show he’s starting to hit his stride.

That could be huge for the Cougars as they get into the heart of the Pac-12 schedule, because, as coach Ernie Kent has said a number of times, Franks has the body and skills to leave a mark on the conference.

Franks can shoot inside and outside, he can hit free throws and he can handle the ball.

All 6-foot-7, 240 pounds of him.

In other words, he’s a big body with agility and skill. Now add in the self-confidence and Kent can readily sub out 7-foot Conor Clifford and leave opposing defenses guarding five guys – Franks, Flynn, Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu and Charles Callison – who can beat you off the dribble.

That will create some very interesting match ups against the next four teams on the schedule: Stanford, Cal, Utah and Colorado.

The Card and Bears are first up. The Cougars travel to the Bay Area this week to play 8-8/0-4 Stanford on Thursday (8 pm) and 11-5/2-2 Cal on Saturday (1 pm). Both games will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.Stanford was swept by the L.A. schools this weekend, while Cal lost to UCLA and beat USC 74-73 last night.

When Kent talks about the tremendous growth still ahead of this Cougar team, Franks and Flynn are two of the prime reasons why. They’re young, they’re playing well and they haven’t come close to hitting their upsides. Viont'e Daniels, who played 20 minutes against Oregon, is another part of that equation. So are K.J. Langston and Jeff Pollard. Their collective growth curves will determine a lot about where this team stands at the end of February.

FOLLOWING SATURDAY’S 85-66 loss to Oregon, the Cougars are 9-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play.

While the final margin of that game was on the sobering side, I came away from with mostly positive thoughts. Among them:

  • A missed dunk by Clifford and some foul calls that put Clifford and Hawkinson on the bench down the stretch of the first half sent the Cougs into intermission tied at 37 when it really felt like they played well enough to be up by six or eight -- against a truly outstanding opponent.
  • Oregon, ranked No. 15 nationally, is a deep and talented team and the Cougars traded punches with them for a good 30 minutes-plus. WSU held the lead, 48-47, when Callison drilled a trey with 13:54 left in the game. Over the ensuing one minute, the Cougs missed two shots and Oregon hit two threes, turning the tide in the Ducks’ direction and they never relinquished it.

Kent talked afterward about the Cougs losing energy mid-way through the second half. Weary legs – the Cougs were playing their third game in seven days – typically add up to missed shots and sagging poise. Get the students back in the stands from break and recharge with the more standard scheduling and I think the Cougs can play some good ball for a full 40 minutes the rest of the way.

The star of the day for Oregon was forward Chris Boucher. Here’s what’s interesting about that. He didn’t start the game and is off to a so-so year, but when the Ducks’ leading scorer, Dillon Brooks, was ejected from the game with a flagrant foul just seven minutes after tip off, Boucher was summoned – and he turned in his performance of the season.

Yep, the Cougs would have been better off with Brooks still in the game – and that’s saying something because he’s a great player. Boucher proceeded to score 29 points and block three shots. The Cougars’ defense on him wasn’t all bad, either. They were closing out and rotating but couldn’t match up. At 6-11, Boucher just shot over the top and he was really feeling it, hitting 11 of 15 field goals, including six from downtown.

INTERESTING STAT OF THE DAY: Courtesy of WSU radio play-by-play man Matt Chazanow. In the four games coming into the Oregon contest – against Santa Clara, Sacramento State, Washington and OSU – the Cougs had allowed a combined eight field goals in the final six minutes of play. To be clear, that’s the final six minutes of each game combined, or 24 minutes. That’s the kind of stretch-run defense that would make Dick Bennett smile.

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