Digging UTEP: Men’s basketball beats the Miners in Beasley

Leading up to Washington State’s matchup against the University of Texas at El Paso, the WSU men’s basketball assistant coaches gave sophomore guard Derrien King a heads up to be ready for more playing time in upcoming games.

After not appearing in the last three games, the 6-foot-6-inch, 180 pound forward took advantage of the opportunity that was given to him and played a vital role in the Cougars’ (6-2) 84-68 win over UTEP (6-3) Sunday afternoon.

When WSU Head Coach Ernie Kent called King’s number with 6:01 remaining in the first half, the sophomore guard knocked down three 3-pointers, which helped the Cougars maintain a 39-33 lead at halftime. King finished the game with a career high of 10 points, and also grabbed six rebounds.

“My teammates just did a good job of finding me when I was open,” King said. “Coach has had a lot of confidence in me.”

Kent said he was pleased to see King step up and make an impact.

“(King has) had a lot of injuries,” Kent said. “He’s kind of behind everyone else because he’s had so many injuries, but he’s starting to play better now and I just think with his length and his skill set, his ability to pass, dribble and see plays and make plays, it just makes us a different team now.”

Due to King’s size, the Cougars switched up their defensive scheme at times during the game against UTEP, going from a man to a 2-3 zone. WSU forced UTEP to shoot 5-22 from behind the arc, and 37 percent from the entire field.

“What Derrien does, his length allows you to matchup better with that big three man that’s throughout this conference and really throughout the country, everybody seems to have that guy over there,” Kent said. “Definitely I thought he could’ve made a big difference in the Idaho game with that kind of length on the perimeter and even in the Gonzaga game he could’ve probably made a difference with that kind of length, so I’m just happy that he’s been cleared health-wise.”

WSU junior forward Conor Clifford also made a difference in the game for the Cougars. The 7-foot, 283 pound center took advantage of UTEP’s lack of height. He tallied 15 points on 5-5 shooting from the field.

“(Kent) was running a lot of plays for me, but a lot of it was on the guards,” Clifford said. “They were hitting me, getting me in my groove and making good passes and spacing for me to give me my space to do my thing.”

The Cougars will play their final home game of the non-conference schedule at 6 p.m. Friday against Texas State. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.