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WSU hoops: How sweep it is! Cougs respond with a 15-point win after tough love from Kent

THE COUGARS responded. After Ernie Kent ripped his team following a mistake-filled loss to Arizona on Thursday, Washington State (12-15, 5-10) played one of its best games of the season in an 86-71 win over Arizona State (13-15, 6-9). The victory completing a WSU season sweep of a conference opponent for the first time since 2011-12. The win also featured the Cougars flipping the script on so many trouble spots this season.

Consider these numbers, most of which have gone the opposite way for the Cougars this season:

  • Rebounds: WSU outrebounded ASU 42-22, including 10-5 on the offensive end.
  • Points in the paint: WSU 42, ASU 24
  • FG percentage: WSU 59, ASU 45
  • 3-pointers: WSU 11, ASU 8
  • WSU shot 62 percent from the field in the second half.
  • The Cougars’ 28 assists were the most since 2000-01 and four shy of the school record.

Kent's tough love from Thursday seemed to work. With both Cougar starters and reserves, mental focus and on-court hustle appeared a notch higher vs. ASU.

"Me getting after them was a parenting moment, just about understanding the value of your scholarship and the importance of being here … I think they responded well, I probably didn’t. Just like a parent that loves his kids, I stayed awake all night after blasting them. I said, ‘I cannot believe I just did that to them,’ but sometimes you need to do it. But I care so much about them and not just about them here but about where they’re going after here," Kent told Matt Chazanow on the WSU Radio Network.

It was a closer game than the final 15-point margin would indicate.  Washington State trailed by 12 points at one point in the first half and was down 49-43 at the break. 

WSU had trouble holding onto the ball early. The Cougs committed 15 turnovers in the game -- 10 in the first half. Worse, ASU outscored WSU 19-4 in points off turnovers for the game.

“They responded,” said Kent. "The turnovers, I thought we were a little too cute with the ball. Once we settled down at halftime and took those turnovers and put them into points, we had control of the game."

The turning point came when Malachi Flynn drilled one of his four 3-pointers to give WSU a 70-69 lead with 6:50 left. Flynn’s trey was the start of something big -- 16 straight WSU points. The Cougs finished the game on a sterling 21-2 run.

Standouts were numerous: Josh Hawkinson scored 14 points and 15 rebounds to become WSU’s all-time leader in double-doubles (54, surpassing Steve Puidokas). Conor Clifford (pictured above with Hawk) had 19 points, the most he's ever scored in a conference game.  Ike Iroegbu finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. And Flynn went for 14 points and a career-high seven assists against just two turnovers.

WSU also got key contributions off the bench: Viont'e Daniels scored 8 points, dished 4 assists and gave Kent 28 minutes. Jeff Pollard and Robert Franks each played only 6 minutes, but scored 5 points apiece. 

UP NEXT: Washington State doesn't play again until a week from Sunday when it hosts rival Washington (Feb. 26, 5 pm, ESPNU) in the final home game for the Cougs this season.  A win over the Huskies would give the Cougs a season sweep over a second Pac-12 opponent.  WSU then finishes up the regular season on the road vs. USC and UCLA.

"What I want them to understand is they are capable of not only hanging with the upper echelon, they can beat somebody from the upper echelon," said Kent.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Kent said a representative for a Japanese team was on hand to watch Clifford. “This is the second trip a club team has come over and (this) was a representative of the national team with his mom being Japanese … what a great opportunity for Conor and how well he played today,” said Kent.


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