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Ernie Kent: Cougs will be sick watching tape of the 74-70 loss at Utah

ERNIE KENT knows his Cougars let one get away at Utah. The Washington State head hoops man talked a whole lot of X’s and O’s -- and missed opportunities -- after a 74-70 loss on the road that saw erratic play from both teams.

Washington State fell to 11-13, 4-8 in Pac-12 play while Utah improved to 16-8/7-5.  The Cougs responded in the second half with a 15-3 run to take a 60-59 lead with 4:55 remaining. But “responding” is not enough, said Kent.

“Responding and winning are two different things ... They're going to be sick when they look at tape because I felt like we lost 2-3 rebounds late that could have won the game for us. We had a defensive rotation that could have won the game for us. We had a free throw that could have put pressure on them. Those are mistakes we made,” Kent told Matt Chazanow on the Cougar Radio Network.

A Charles Callison trey gave WSU a 65-62 lead with 3:34 left, but then Utah went on a 7-0 run. Still, WSU had its chances to tie or take the lead again but mental mistakes were the Cougs' undoing, Kent said.

“We've improved but that's not why I'm here. To break that losing mentality, you've got to get mentally and physically tough … Yes, I'm proud of them that they've improved greatly. Yes, we battled ... but we had a chance to close out the game,” said Kent.

Four Cougs were in double figures. Ike Iroegbu led WSU with 17 points, Josh Hawkinson had 16 and Malachi Flynn and Callison scored 12 apiece. Conor Clifford scored 8 but nabbed only two rebounds before fouling out. And the point totals don’t speak to the final possessions, said Kent.

“Malachi misses a free throw, Ike misses a weak-side help and gives up a bucket,” said Kent. “There again is a big guy scoring 22 points on us, right at the rim on Conor because we won't front the post. That just shouldn't happen.

“Our guards did an excellent job defensively but we gave up too much easy stuff. We run a play to get a three, Ike shoots a two. I called the play for Malachi to put Robo on the ball screen, he puts Josh on the ball screen. It's little things - mentally - that you break down on, that cost you.”

Kent was fine with Flynn taking the final 3-point attempt for the tie with five seconds left. But not the execution.

“We had a play designed for Ike and he didn't get it done so we went back to Malachi. I wish he would  have come off that screen one more time so that 3-point shot is not so deep. The play was calling for him to come off the screen three times and I wanted Robo (Robert Franks) on the ball screen because they couldn't switch with Robo's guy. They could switch with (Hawkinson's) guy. So that part got lost in translation,” said Kent.

WSU dished 19 assists to Utah's 12. And the Cougs overcame 23 fewer free throw attempts: Utah was 22 of 31 from the line, WSU was 6 of 8.   But the Cougs were bludgeoned 44-22 in the paint, a familiar occurrence this season. 

“Our Achilles heel this year and I continue to say it has been guarding dominant big men,” said Kent. “We kinda neutralized Kuzma (10 points) but then the other big got away from us (Collette, 22 points). You  just can't have that. These are not jump shots. These are point blank layups. And therein lies the problem of where we're at right now.

“I can't make them more athletic. I can't turn them into shot blockers ... all we can do is try to come up with a trick here and there scheme-wise to try and help them out ... they just have to get a little bit tougher and a little bit smarter.”

Meanwhile, Iroegbu played 37 minutes at Utah. Too many, Kent said.

“Ike played too many minutes and I talked to him about this because he needs to take himself out of the game. I thought he was kind of brain dead the last four minutes of the game, particularly on defense. He gave up a lot there that didn't need to happen if he'd just have come out and gotten a blow. I'm going to have to talk to my staff about that because we scripted minutes and we should have had him out for a quick rest ... it's mental when you forget to do something, you don't rotate and all those types of things,” said Kent.

Kent was pleased with the production of Jeff Pollard, Keith Langston and Viont’e Daniels -- and it sounded likely after the game that Kent will go more to his bench the next time the Cougars take the floor.

“We just need to  get them more minutes. When I look at the game again I think guys are going to see that hey, you should be off the floor if can't move any harder than that. And I'm talking about those starters,” said Kent.

WSU raced out to an early 10-point lead before Utah stormed back. The Utes held a 35-29 lead into halftime after ripping off a 25-4 run, including 16 straight points.

UP NEXT: WSU at Colorado on Sunday (5:30 p.m. Pacific, ESPNU).  Colorado beat UW 81-66 Thursday night sans starting forwards Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon who were suspended for a second straight game for violation of team rules. Colorado coach Tad Boyle said both would be back in action against WSU on Sunday.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Hawkinson tied Steve Puidokas for the WSU career double-double record (53).

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