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January 6, 2015 at 3:09 PM

Ernie Kent on Washington State: ‘A team believing in itself’

Ernie Kent, right. (Photo credit: Jeff Chiu - AP)

Ernie Kent, right. (Photo credit: Jeff Chiu – AP)

Under first-year coach Ernie Kent Washington State got off to a rocky 4-6 start, but the Cougars have won three of the past four games, including a big 69-66 win at California last Sunday.

It was the first conference road win for WSU since beating the Beavers in Oregon State on Jan. 26, 2013 — a stretch of 15 games.

The Cougars (7-7, 1-1 Pac-12) play Washington (11-3, 0-2) noon Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Here’s a partial transcript of Kent’s teleconference Tuesday.

(On the biggest beneficiary of Jordan Railey’s improvement) “I would say the perimeter game because any time you can go inside and get points it frees up teams from locking in on your guards. Normally, you’ll find teams with a non-scoring big guy. (Opposing teams) will just play behind him and dare you to throw the ball into him and they will sit on your guards, which doesn’t give them a lot of freedom of movement to get open. So when you can go inside and get points and come back outside and get points – have an inside-out game – put a shooter opposite the post, it frees up a lot of things for you offensively.”

(On one playing better helping everyone else) “I don’t know know if the winning is contagious and one player thing, I think it’s more about a team chemistry. A team finding itself. A team confidence. I think all of those things. A team understanding a system better now. They’re starting to see it. A team realizing that if you can execute game plans and you can prepare, they have an opportunity to have some success. Then anytime you have some success, I just think again it catapults you to another level of believing in yourself and believing in your system. Early on this team struggled because it really got kind of beat up with our schedule. Not realizing that our schedule was getting ready for Pac-12 play. Now we’ve had some early success winning three of our last four games, you can get a team to start to believe in itself – start to feel good about itself – I think that’s the thing that’s contagious amongst guys getting on their game. Because all of these guys have a game in them.”

(On breaking 15-game Pac-12 road losing streak) “I don’t know how much we mentioned it going into the game. I know we did mention it though in one of our prep sessions about the next hurdle. And several hurdles in this program was to get the monkey off our backs and not being able to win on the road in conference play. And it wasn’t as smooth as we’d liked it in the last two minutes. I thought we were excellent up until them. But this team has never been – this program has never been – where they were the hunted in a game coming down the stretch in the last minute or so of a game. It was almost as if they needed the adversity of the game to win the game and grow through the game. And they were able to do that. And that ended up being a good thing even though that’s an area that we need to get better at. Because we’re going to be in a lot of games if we’re going to have the success that I think we’re going to have. There’s going to be a lot of games like that that comes down to the last minute of the game.”

(On not being able to win close games in the past) “I don’t think it would have happened three weeks ago. I think again his growth is continuing. His growth is contagious in terms of guys having confidence in him. I thought several things happened in the game because we let the game kind of take shape and flow. Not only did he want the ball, they gave him the ball and he did something with the ball – completed the play. All of those are huge growth opportunities for a team like us that’s still trying to find itself. I thought it was a special moment for him to hit that shot. That give him an opportunity to have even more confidence in himself.”

(On Railey going against Robert Upshaw) “We have a player in our program Valatine Izundu, he’s not as big as Upshaw. He’s not as physically as tall, but we think he has an opportunity to be one of the best shot blockers in the country next year. He’s 6-11. He has over a 7-foot wingspan. He is a tremendous athlete that tries to go get everything. And he’s had some incredible plays in practice. That’s been a blessing right now that we’ve had a guy that throws a lot of shots our of there in practice. So it shouldn’t be surprising when you see a center the caliber of Upshaw sitting in there. So that part of it is a good thing for us. Although until you get into the heat of the battle guys don’t really realize how good he is because he is a very good center. Not only does he block shots, he keeps them in play. And he can score. And I think he has an enormous amount of confidence in his game. The biggest thing is playing with confidence and realizing that particularly with guards you got to be careful thinking you’re going to go in there and attack that kind of size. I’m not so much concerned about it with the big on big because we’ve played that before.”

(On Railey drawing fouls on Upshaw) “He’s been around long enough. He understands the game well enough that it’s not about trying to get a big in foul trouble. Without sitting here and giving away game plans and things of that nature, I think he’s a smart basketball player that knows how to handle himself.”

(On stopping Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss) “Once again not wanting to give away what we need to do and what we have to do I’ll put it into this context that he is an outstanding point guard that loves to push the pace. It should be a very fast basketball game because they want to get up and down. And we want to want to get up and down. But it’s not Upshaw. It’s not Nigel. It’s the entire basketball team that we have to scheme against because it’s a different environment going over there to play. They’ve lost three out of four. I know they don’t want to start the conference 0-3 so they’re going to be jacked up and ready to go. They’ll be focused. They’ll be locked in. Those are more of the concerns for us moreso than one particular guy on the floor. Its’ just how we handle ourselves in a game of this magnitude.”

(On playing against Lorenzo Romar) “I haven’t had a team against him in four years. It’s kind of hard to say because I think again I’m different as a coach having stepped out of it for four years and coming back into it. And I think in Lo’s case, he’s a very good friend just like Johnny Dawkins is a good friend and Cuonzo Martin is a good friend and Sean Miller. I have several guys in this conference that being on the NABC board you know them very well. But the thing that I can tell you about Lorenzo, I think any time you have success at a program where you have built it and people start to get used to that success. There comes a point in time where they stop celebrating and start tolerating you. I hope they never get to that point over there because he’s one of the best basketball people in this game. What I mean by that is not only does he coach the game, he cares about his kids and he’s an ambassador of the game. He handles himself extremely well. When you throw all of those ingredients together you’ve go an outstanding basketball coach over there. That’s the thing that I remember about him. That’s the thing that I see when I stepped away from coaching. He’s on the board of directors with me as we try to help shape college basketball. You can see that he’s somebody that cares about kids and cares about the game just like I do.”




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