Last chance to make the big dance

Cougars have to win four games in four days to earn Pac-12 tournament title



WSU junior guard Kwinton Hinson soars over Oregon State defenders and Cougar teammates as he goes for a layup Saturday night at Beasley Coliseum. Hinson scored five points in the game.

COLIN CONNOLLY , Evergreen reporter

WSU men’s basketball will look to win a first-round game in the Pac-12 tournament for the first time since the 2008-2009 season when they take on University of Oregon on Wednesday.

The Cougars (12-18, 4-14) split the regular season meetings with the Ducks (20-11, 10-8), with WSU taking the most recent game between the two teams 78-76 on Thursday.

Sophomore guard Malachi Flynn said after the game that the Cougars are finally starting to find their identity.

“We are just really confident right now,” he said. “We are playing together, we trust each other and we trust the coaches.”

This confidence didn’t translate into a win in the Cougars’ final game of the season against Oregon State University, but the team is looking past that defeat and focusing on moving forward to the conference tournament.

Redshirt senior forward Drick Bernstine said the Cougars need to fix the mistakes they made against the Beavers and play with more mental and physical toughness.

“We need to refocus, that’s really all you can do,” Bernstine said. “We have to throw [the last game] out of the window. It’s over, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Head Coach Ernie Kent made a point of playing the bench players in the 25-point loss to Oregon State. He said he didn’t do it to give the starters rest or let them see it from the bench, but to give the backups playing time.

Kent said three priorities for the team when playing the Beavers ahead of the tourney were to restore sophomore guard Carter Skaggs’ shooting ability, get junior guard Kwinton Hinson healthy and increase playing time for redshirt freshman forward Arinze Chidom.

“We’re going to need numbers and depth in Vegas when you play four games in four days,” Kent said.

Bernstine said the team is extremely focused on going to the Pac-12 tournament and becoming conference champions. He said nobody wants to get blown out or lose in the first game.

This team already has a tournament win under its belt, from the Wooden Legacy tournament in November. Bernstine said the team has proven it can win a tournament and has the confidence to do it again.

Kent said the Pac-12 tournament brings some freshness to a team like WSU, because they aren’t young and inexperienced anymore.  He said the Cougars need to make sure the right team shows up in Las Vegas.

WSU comes into the tournament winning three of its last six games after a seven-game losing streak. The Ducks have a similar record over the past six games, and are coming off a 72-64 victory over University of Washington on Saturday.

Kent said the great thing about the tournament is that the entire regular season is behind them. Every team is 0-0, and as long as they continue to win, they keep playing.

“Our destiny lies in the Pac-12 tournament,” Kent said.

Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The game can also be viewed live on Pac-12 Networks.