USA TODAY SPORTS/JAMES SNOOK

College hoops world starting to pay attention to what Ernie Kent is doing at WSU

HERE AT THE HALFWAY mark of the college basketball season, something interesting is going on: Close observers of the game, nationally and regionally, are taking notice of the job third-year coach Ernie Kent is doing with his Washington State Cougars.

WSU is 11-10 overall and 4-5 in conference play heading into tonight’s home date with No. 8-ranked UCLA (19-3/6-3). Tip off is at 6 with TV coverage on the Pac-12 Network (J.B. Long and Matt Muehlebach on the call).

The props for Kent began Friday, when Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star devoted a column to how tough the Cougars had played for 35 minutes against the vaunted Wildcats on Thursday. He noted No. 5-ranked Zona has dominated WSU over the decades like no other opponent (61-16 to be precise), but that Thursday’s game was an eye opener because Kent “appears to be getting better as he gets older."

Considering that Kent took Oregon to two Elite Eight appearances in his tenure there, that should stand as no small compliment.

Hansen adds:

"The magnitude of building a consistent threat at WSU isn’t unknown; the Cougars have won more than 20 games just three times across the last 30 seasons. But Washington State athletic director Bill Moos has thrown all the money into the pot, betting that Kent is the best man for the job."

Moreover, he says, WSU ought be thankful Kent doesn’t throw up his hands and walk away midway through his contract. Here’s the full story.

Meanwhile, down in Kent’s old Eugene stopping grounds, Steve Mims of the Register-Guard writes that while the Cougars aren’t likely headed to the Big Dance this season, they are “one of the most improved teams in the country.”

He notes:

“The goals this season are not that high, but WSU could earn its highest seed in the Pac-12 Tournament since 2011 when it was a No. 6 seed. The Cougars could also work their way into the National Invitation Tournament or earn some other postseason berth for the first time since reaching the CBI five years ago.

AN INTERESTING SIDE NOTE TO tonight’s WSU-UCLA game is that the Bruins haven’t played a game in a week and the Cougars are coming off a road trip in which they didn’t arrive home till 12:30 a.m. Monday. In my book, that makes the Cougars more mentally tough coming into this one. The Bruins are favored by 16 ½.

The Bruins are one of the top teams in the nation, but they come to Friel Court tonight having lost their last three games on Cougar soil. Their last victory on the Palouse was in February 2012. Last season the two teams split, each winning on their home court.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • In his pre-game radio interview on Sunday, Kent enthused about the work being turned in this season by his two incoming recruits from Tyler Junior College in Texas. Tyler is the No. 10-ranked JC in the nation and in a big victory over Paris last week, future Cougs Kwinton Hinson and Davante Cooper starred. Hinson scored 26 points, fueled by 7 threes, and the 6-11 Cooper blocked 5 shots. Kent said the 6-4 Hinson is the type of big, multi-dimensional wing the Cougars have been missing and Cooper is a wide wingspan in the paint.\
  • The Cougars host USC on Saturday at 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Network). 
  • With 911 rebounds, Josh Hawkinson is just 81 away from the WSU record (992) set by Steve Puidokas from 1974-77, and just 89 away from becoming the 13th Pac-12 student-athlete to grab 1,000 rebounds in his career. With 1,271 points, he ranks 18th on WSU's career scoring list. 
  • Ike Iroegbu is currently 24th on WSU's career scoring list with 1,083 points. He's also climbing up the assists list, ranking ninth with 330 in his WSU career. 

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