November 14, 2015

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) Ernie Kent came away from his first season at Washington State convinced the Cougars needed to improve their defense and athleticism to make progress in 2015-16. Judging from WSU's opening game, progress has been made in both areas.

Washington State's quickness was on display at both ends of the court in an 80-70 win over Northern Arizona. Friday night's nonconference game at Beasley Conference was the season opener for both teams.

''At times, I thought they were outstanding defensively,'' Kent said, ''particularly with the full-court pressure when we cranked it up.''

The Cougars held NAU to 37.3 percent shooting from the field, forced 18 turnovers and recorded 11 steals and seven blocked shots. Josh Hawkinson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Viont'e Daniels sank all five of his 3-point tries and scored 15 points in his college debut.

''He (Daniels) just does all the little things,'' Hawkinson said. ''He's always in the gym getting up extra shots, and I think it really showed tonight. He does everything the coaches tell him, and all the players really believe in him.''

Daniels came off the bench along with center Valentine Izundu, a junior transfer from Houston. Izundu collected seven points, three dunks, four blocked shots, a steal and a rebound in 14 minutes.

''Everyone across the country is going to see how athletic and how much of a player he is,'' Hawkinson said. ''And how much defensive help he can bring to our team, just shot blocking.''

Izundu saw limited time in two years at Houston. He played in just four games two years ago, then redshirted last season at Washington State to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

''For him having sat out about two years, I'd say he had a great game,'' Kent said. ''Not only did he have a few blocks, but he changed another half a dozen shots.''

Kris Yanku led five Lumberjacks in double figures with 15 points. Torry Johnson, one of two freshmen who started for NAU, added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

''We got down 15-4 after four minutes (and 20 seconds),'' Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy said. ''I think we played them pretty much even the rest of the night.''

The Lumberjacks trailed 47-34 at the half. They pulled within 11 at 70-59 with 8:30 left in the game before the Cougars put together an 8-0 run.

''Obviously,'' Murphy said, ''we'd like to have those first four minutes back. But I think the guys battled and never quit.

''There's definitely some positives. We're getting better. I'm excited to see where we're going to be in a few months.''


Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks have one of the youngest teams in NCAA Division I. Eleven of the 15 players are freshmen, including redshirt freshman guard Torry Johnson. Three lettermen return from a 23-15 team that lost to Evansville in the finals of the Tournament. NAU was picked to finish fourth in the Big Skyin the preseason media and coaches polls.

Washington State: Veteran coach Ernie Kent, starting his second season with the Cougars, brought in four junior college transfers to try to speed up the rebuilding process. After finishing 13-18 last season, the Cougars were picked last in the preseason media poll of the Pac-12 Conference. The Pac-12 doesn't have a coaches poll.


Northern Arizona visits Boise State on Monday.

Washington State hosts Idaho State next Friday.


Yanku, a junior guard, broke Kyle Landry's school record of 358 career free throws made. Yanku led the nation last season with 230 free throws made, setting school and Big Sky records.

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