Men’s basketball gears up for brouhaha with Bruins


WSU sophomore guard Que Johnson drives to the basket against Washington at Beasley Coliseum, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015.

From staff reports

The Cougars hope to ride their momentum from Wednesday’s victory over USC as they prepare to challenge the UCLA Bruins.

Washington State (12-15, 6-9 Pac-12) managed to hold on despite a late surge by the Trojans Wednesday night to come out victorious 70-66. The Cougs led by as many as 19 points in the game, but WSU will need to be more consistent if they hope to defeat UCLA (17-12, 9-7). The Bruins are coming off an 88-66 dismantling of Washington after losing their two previous games to the Arizona schools.

In a year where only Arizona and Utah appear locked for the NCAA Tournament from the Pac-12, the Bruins are fighting to make their way back into the tournament as well. As of right now, they’re part of the last four in, according to Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology.

The Cougars are looking to help spoil any hopes the Bruins have of making a return trip to the tournament. Head Coach Ernie Kent believes if his guards play at a high level, this team will have the opportunity to finish the year strong.

“I don’t care if you’re on the women’s side, men’s side, NBA, WNBA, junior high, high school,” Kent said. “Your good teams I will guarantee you have good guard play, all of them because the ball is out there so much and in their hands so much.”

One player that gave WSU a spark in their victory against the Trojans was junior forward Junior Longrus. Longrus made one of his two free throws with 17.1 seconds left on the clock to put the Cougars up four. However, it was what happened on the second free throw that sealed the deal for WSU. After Longrus missed the attempt he grabbed the rebound in time to secure another possession for WSU. The Cougars will need to have sustained success from their role players to beat UCLA.

Senior guard Norman Powell has led UCLA this season with 16.1 points per game while adding 4.8 rebounds. However, he isn’t the only key player for the Bruins as they have four other players with double digit scoring averages this season. UCLA also features freshman forward Kevon Looney, who is second in rebounding in the Pac-12 behind WSU sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson with 9.4 a game. He is also scoring 12.3 points per game, averaging almost a double-double a night.

The Cougars have gotten a tremendous boost on the offensive side of the ball from senior guard Dexter Kernich-Drew, who has proven his recent streak is real, scoring 19 points in another outstanding performance against the Trojans. His play has given the Cougars a third consistent scorer along with Hawkinson and senior guard DaVonté Lacy. The trio has a combined score of 46.4 points per game over their last five games.

WSU will need to play up-tempo and continue their recent solid shooting for any hopes of upsetting the Bruins on their home floor. With the victory, the Cougars would position themselves in their final two games with an opportunity to finish the season .500 in Pac-12 play and overall. Also, it would boost their chances at better seeding in the Pac-12 tournament in hopes of making a run for the tournament title.

You can catch the Cougars in their pursuit of their sweep of the southern California schools Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. against the Bruins. The game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.

Reporting by William Cheshier