WSU takes on Mon­tana State in spe­cial visit to Tri-Cities

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY JEFF MOR­ROW Spe­cial to the Her­ald

Ernie Kent wanted to bring his Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity men’s bas­ket­ball team to the Tri-Cities for a few good rea­sons.

“We’re in dead week head­ing into fi­nals,” said Kent in a phone in­ter­view on Fri­day. “I know it’s win­ter and getting to Pull­man some­times can be tough. And I’m will­ing to (come to the Tri-Cities for a game) again. It al­lows our team to get out of town and see a place some of them haven’t been be­fore. And we know we’ll have fans there, so it’ll help our team’s en­ergy.”

And that’s why the WSU men’s team is host­ing Mon­tana State Univer­sity at 4 p.m. Sun­day at the Toy­ota Cen­ter. Tick­ets are still avail­able at the Toy­ota Cen­ter box of­fice.

Kent’s Cougars are off to a 5-2 start, and there is a lot to like about this sea­son’s WSU team.

“They’re a team with a lot of po­si­tion-less play­ers,” said Kent. “By that I mean we have a lot of play­ers who can play the guard spot and the for­ward spot. You’ll see dif­fer­ent guys bring­ing the ball up court with the drib­ble.”

That al­lows Kent to mix and match a lot on the floor, and he has so far as he preps his team for the up­com­ing Pac-12 Con­fer­ence wars in Jan­uary. He also likes the play­ers’ strength of char­ac­ter.

“Fans are go­ing to en­joy this

team’s ca­ma­raderie,” said Kent. “They’re go­ing to feel the ca­ma­raderie. They’ll see a team that’s in sync with each other. These guys have been grow­ing to­gether on the floor and off the floor.”

The only neg­a­tive, he says, is the Cougars — with six new play­ers on the ros­ter this sea­son — will need some time to grow.

“You can’t speed up the ex­pe­ri­ence fac­tor,” Kent ad­mits. “You hope the foun­da­tion is good. You hope the de­fense is good. You hope the lead­er­ship is good. So far, they’ve done all of those things that are needed.”

Se­nior Robert Franks, a

6-foot-9 for­ward out of Van­cou­ver, Wash., leads the Cougars in scor­ing at

24.3 points a game, and he needs just 88 more points this sea­son to hit the

1,000-point ca­reer scor­ing mark.

CJ Elleby, a 6-foot-6 fresh­man for­ward from Seat­tle, is av­er­ag­ing 13.6 points a game, while Isa­iah Wade —a 6-7 power for­ward from Min­neapo­lis — is at 10.5 a game.

Kent re­ally likes this team.

“It’s been one of the more en­joy­able times so far,” he said. “These guys al­low you to coach them on the floor. And our as­sis­tant coaches do such an out­stand­ing job men­tor­ing these kids. We have a great time with these guys.”

In Mon­tana State (2-6), Kent says don’t be fooled by the Bob­cats’ record.

“They have played in a lot of tough en­vi­ron­ments al­ready this sea­son,” he said. MSU has lost road games at In­di­ana, Colorado State and Arkansas.

Tyler Hall, a 6-5 se­nior guard, leads the Bob­cats with a 19.1 points scor­ing av­er­age. “Hall is one of the bet­ter guards we’ll face this sea­son,” Kent said.

Fourth-year head coach Brian Fish — who was a long-time as­sis­tant for cur­rent Ore­gon head coach Dana Alt­man — will also de­pend on 6-6 ju­nior for­ward Keljin Blevens

(11.5 points a game) and

6-5 for­ward Ladan Ricketts (11.0) for scor­ing.

NOTES:

● Both teams take at least a week off after Sun­day’s game. MSU trav­els to the Univer­sity of Den­ver on Dec. 18. The Bob­cats also be­gin Big Sky Con­fer­ence play on Dec. 29 at South­ern Utah. WSU will play host to Rider on Dec. 17 in Pull­man. The Cougars be­gin Pac-12 play on Jan. 5 at Wash­ing­ton.

● The Bob­cats won their last con­test, an 81-76 verdict over North Dakota on Nov. 27. Hall sur­passed the 2,000-point mark for his ca­reer in that game.

● Blevins is the cousin of NBA star Damian Lil­lard and for­mer Tri-Cities Fever quar­ter­back Hous­ton Lil­lard.

● WSU beat Idaho 90-70 on Wed­nes­day in Pull­man. Franks scored 22 points and Elleby added 20 for the Cougs in the win.

YOUNG KWAK AP

Wash­ing­ton State se­nior Robert Franks, a 6-foot-9 for­ward out of Van­cou­ver, Wash., leads the Cougars in scor­ing at 24.3 points a game. He is 88 points from hit­ting the 1,000-point ca­reer scor­ing mark. WSU hosts Mon­tana State on Sun­day at the Toy­ota Cen­ter.

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