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Cougar Basketball Notebook: Figuring out the Jekyll and Hyde

AFTER WATCHING Washington State’s men’s basketball team take Cal to the heartbreaking wire on the road in front of more than 9,000 Bears fans the other day, I was puzzled. But my confusion was cleared up, unintentionally, by an old friend in Spokane who mentioned in passing that the Cougars were practicing at Whitworth University in north Spokane last week.

I confirmed that it was no mirage in the snow. The Cougs were on the Pirates' campus last Wednesday. As in, the day before they played Stanford.

Spokane? Why?

Turns out that after driving to Spokane at the crack of dawn to catch their commercial flight for the trek to the Bay Area, the Cougars were informed their flight was canceled. So was the next one out of town. They wouldn’t be taking off for another seven hours.

So with their practice in Stanford’s arena that afternoon now out of the question, they headed to Whitworth to get in their work. The Cougs finally arrived in the Bay Area that night. And the following evening they looked nothing like the team that beat Washington and Oregon State, played Oregon straight up for 30 minutes, and would subsequently lose in nail biting fashion to Cal two days later.

Stanford beat WSU by 30 points. The Cougars seemed to be in a fog from start to finish. Not to take away from the Card – they played great ball and clearly were energized by having Travis Reid back in the lineup. But this just wasn’t the same WSU team of the last few weeks. To then see the Cougs playing mentally tough, physical, defensive-minded basketball against Cal had me wondering how a team could be so Jekyll-and-Hyde in the span of three days.

Then I learned about the detour to Whitworth and thought about the Three Rs: rhythm, rest and routine. The Cougs were completely knocked out of theirs by the flight cancellations.

That’s no excuse – suck it up and play ball – but for me it does explain perfectly why we saw two very different Cougar teams in the Stanford and Cal contests.

And this is another reminder why Cougar fans need to elevate their donations to athletics. Every team in the conference charters to all or many of their road games. Lack of charters, both for games and recruiting, played a major – and I mean MAJOR – role in Tony Bennett’s decision to leave for Virginia. But that is a subject to explore in greater depth at another time.

Back to the play on the court. I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week: 6-7, 240-pound forward Robert Franks’ continuing emergence is one of the most exciting developments unfolding in Cougar hoops right now. Collectively against Stanford and Cal, he played 36 minutes, scored 19 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. That’s production but here’s what’s really interesting to me. He hit 5 of 11 treys in those two games. When he’s on the court, in place of Conor Clifford, opposing teams must defend five Cougs who can beat you off the dribble and also shoot from downtown.

Franks and Clifford each give the Cougar offense very different looks to defend. The more consistent Franks becomes, the more effective the back-and-forth can be.

Speaking of promising developments, freshman point guard Malachi Flynn fired up 20 points at Cal (and arguably was robbed of a potentially game-tying trip to the free throw line in the final seconds) after a hellish outing against Stanford. Gotta love the bounce back in the rookie from Tacoma.

Another Cougar youngster, sophomore Viont'e Daniels, is fully back from the concussion that cost him four games in December. He played 31 minutes each against both Stanford and Cal. He didn't have much of a stat line in those games, however, and that will need to change because the Cougars will need more out of their bench as the Pac-12 campaign unfolds.

THIS WEEK THE 9-8/2-3 COUGARS WON’T have any concerns about flight delays. They’re hosting Utah tomorrow (Wednesday 6 p.m.) and Colorado on Saturday (1 p.m.) at Beasley Coliseum. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Network.

The Utes ought be concerned of this trend line: The Cougars are 4-0 this season in games played on Wednesdays.

Utah (12-5/3-2) is coming off a split this past weekend. They beat USC 86-64 and lost a thriller to UCLA 83-82. Colorado, meanwhile, was swept by the LA schools – losing 104-89 to UCLA and 71-68 to USC. The Buffs are 10-8/0-5 this season.

BIG HONOR FOR ERNIE KENT

Tucked down in the middle of WSU's press release on Cougar hoops this week is this nugget: Ernie Kent has been chosen to serve on the newly created Division I Men’s Basketball Competition Committee. Only two coaches were picked for the 10-person panel, so this is a big-time nod of respect that tells you how Kent is viewed in the college coaching ranks. The other is Bob McKillop of Davidson. The committee will have regular communication with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee and will review student-athlete health and safety issues, sportsmanship and integrity, game operations and presentation, technology, and statistical trends. 

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • The Cougars are the only team in the league to have three players ranked in the top-10 in the Pac-12 for minutes played per game (Josh Hawkinson, Flynn and Ike Iroegbu).
  • Hawkinson is 115 rebounds away from the WSU record (992) set by Steve Puidokas from 1974-77, and just 123 away from becoming the 13th Pac-12 player to grab 1,000 rebounds in his career. With 1,194 career points, he ranks No. 19 on WSU’s career scoring list.
  • Two different Cougars rank in the top eight in the Pac-12 in seven different categories: Hawkinson (rebounds per game, defensive rebounds per game, double-doubles, free throw percentage, minutes played); Clifford (free throw percentage); Flynn (3-point field goal percentage). Hawkinson is also top-25 nationally in three different categories: double-doubles (16th), defensive rebounds per game (sixth) and rebounds per game (21st).


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