Bench steps up as season comes to a close

Performance of athletes that haven’t seen extensive playing time earlier in year has led to recent victories



From left, redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquuah, freshman guard TJ Mickelson, redshirt freshman guard Jamar Ergas and junior forward Davante Cooper celebrate from the bench during the game against Utah on Feb. 17 at Beasley Coliseum.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

If you caught WSU men’s basketball’s last four games, you might have noticed something different. The Cougars have developed a new contribution that fans have yet to see this season: the bench.

In the Cougars’ previous home series against University of Utah and University of Colorado, where they snagged a win and a loss that went down to the final minutes, a brand of basketball was on display that had Head Coach Ernie Kent excited about the prospect of his bench playing a bigger role down the stretch.

“It’s been really neat to see this bench start to be more productive,” Kent said. “It brings in tremendous energy. They’re starting to practice with even more energy knowing that they will get those opportunities.”

Kent’s lineup in both games went 11 deep, and he saw plenty of promising signs from his role players. While the bench only averaged a little over 13 points in the previous two games, the inexperienced players looked like they belonged on the court.

“Sometimes players think coaches have to give them confidence,” Kent said. “It’s really the players needing to give the coach confidence to play [them], and the reward that we give them is … an opportunity to play.”

The Cougars’ junior college transfers started finding a level of comfort on the floor, and their production is only beginning to rise. Sophomore junior transfer guard Carter Skaggs was able to establish himself in the lineup from the start of the season, but junior forward Davante Cooper and junior guard Kwinton Hinson are starting to catch traction.

Cooper has seen a tremendous increase in playing time dating back to Feb. 11, when he got his first start in absence of junior forward Robert Franks on the road against University of Oregon. The big man has not yet reached his full potential, but with his offense developing each game before our eyes, Cooper could be one of the first guys off the bench.

The most we have seen from Hinson this year is the occasional three-pointer here and there. But recently he has provided a spark on the wing of the one-three-one zone that Kent commonly employs. Hinson, who has an athletic 6-foot-7-inch frame, provides length to disrupt passing lanes, deflect passes and is a perfect fit for Kent’s defensive scheme.

Senior guard Steven Shpreyregin, who went from transferring to WSU as a walk-on to earning a scholarship for his final season, has joined the three-point shooting barrage from the bench. His teammates call him “Sprayregin,” and he lived up to the name when he hit the latter end of back-to-back threes against Utah that brought the Cougars’ deficit down to single digits. His production in crunch time is a promising sign for his role in the lineup as the end of the season approaches.

Like Hinson, redshirt freshman forward Arinze Chidom has made his presence felt in Kent’s zone defense. Chidom mans the top spot in the zone and, because of his length, he makes life hard for guards trying to break through and drive to the rim.

Against Utah, Chidom let his passion get the best of him when he believed he had a clean steal that would have led to a wide open dunk. Instead, he was called for a reach-in foul, much to the dismay of himself and everyone in attendance at Beasley Coliseum.

The Cougars’ bench won’t be the difference-maker in the conclusion of this season, but on a night-in and night-out basis, relying on some productive minutes is necessary.

With the final two games of the season coming up Thursday and Saturday, the Cougars will need every bit of the bench’s production and then some in order to have a chance of closing the regular season on a high note.