Men’s basketball season plagued by inexperience

Inability to finish games affected Cougars all season



WSU sophomore guard Malachi Flynn navigates around Oregon State junior guard Stephen Thompson Jr. during a game on March 3 at Beasley Coliseum. WSU lost 92-67 to the Beavers in its final regular season game.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

In its final seven games, WSU men’s basketball reached a level of play that supported the early-season hype they received. But multiple losing streaks derailed those hopes, with the Cougars finishing the season at 12-19.

“The good thing about this team—particularly in the last third of the season—they became mentally tougher,” Head Coach Ernie Kent said after the loss to Oregon in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. “As we started to face teams the second time around, we played them tougher, we played them differently, and they allowed us to make adjustments. I felt like they really grew up as a team.”

In the Pac-12 preseason poll the Cougars were written off to finish last in the conference for the third consecutive season. While that prediction was fairly accurate, WSU took an interesting route to finish 11th in the conference, marking the seventh consecutive season the Cougars have finished in the bottom third of the Pac-12 standings.

The Cougars dove into the season turning heads with a 6-0 start that featured a championship in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. On Nov. 27 the Cougars earned themselves 25 votes in the Week 4 AP poll, which placed them at 31st in the nation, just one spot below University of Arizona.

By the Week 6 AP poll on Dec. 11, WSU had lost games to University of California, Davis, cross-state rival University of Idaho and University of Texas, El Paso, and would remain out of the AP poll for the rest of the season.

In addition to falling from the AP poll, the three losses were part of a 17-game stretch where the Cougars surrendered 14 losses and plummeted to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.

In the conference portion of the 17-game stretch, the Cougars only managed to pull off one win from Dec. 29 to Feb. 11.

In the final seven games of the regular season, WSU began to look like the team that won the Wooden Legacy Tournament, despite only winning three of them.

Junior forward Robert Franks’ dramatic development won him the Pac-12’s most improved player award. Franks is the third Cougar to win the award and the second under Kent.

The Cougars’ roster next season will only be missing departing seniors Steven Shpreyregin and graduate transfer forward Drick Bernstine.

Both players were honored in the Cougars’ loss to Oregon State University in the final regular season game. Kent elected to start Shpreyregin and give the former walk-on guard his first career start.

“You have two great seniors that gave up some things to come here to Washington State,” Kent said. “Stevie gave up dollars in having to pay his own way here until we scholarshipped him. Drick gave up being the premiere player in his conference.”

Kent said his team began to figure out how to close games late in the season, which will help them heading into next year.

“I’m happy for them after everything they have went through to hang in there with us and let us coach them,” Kent said. “That’s hard for young people to do, to have all that failure and still want to listen, be coached and sure enough they’re getting some great rewards for their effort … and their commitment to Washington State basketball.”