The Cougars, who host Washington on Saturday, lead the nation in three-pointers made per game with 12.1.
In his fourth season at Washington State, Ernie Kent believes he’s finally assembled a men’s basketball team that compares favorably to his dominant Oregon squads of more than a decade ago.
During an eight-season span (2000-08), the Ducks won two conference-tournament titles and appeared in five NCAA tournaments — including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2007.
The Cougars didn’t win more than 13 games or finish higher than eighth in the Pac-12 in the previous three seasons while Kent assembled players who can play his up-tempo attack.
Washington at Washington State, 1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Washington State (8-6, 0-2 Pac-12) is by no means a finished product, but at the very least Kent has infused an identity into the Cougars who are the most prolific three-point-shooting team in the country.
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WSU leads the nation with 12.1 made three-pointers per game, which is a dramatic turnaround from the team he inherited that ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring (62.4 points per game) and field-goal shooting (40.0) in 2013-14.
“It was a staple of my teams at Oregon when we got up and down with the speed of the game,” Kent said about WSU’s three-point shooting. “And I’ve been trying to get pieces in place here where we can play a more faster brand of basketball.
“We are a really good shooting team when we take good shots. … I don’t mind them shooting the three because we can get going and really shoot it well. And that’s been a good thing for us. We don’t have to live and die by it, but we’ve shot it well. Particularly the key guys have shot it well.”
Four Cougars shoot better than 40 percent on three-pointers, including freshman backup guard Carter Skaggs, who leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth nationally with a 52.1 three-point shooting percentage.
WSU leading scorer Robert Franks, who averages 17.6 points, is at 41.4 percent on threes, guard Viont’e Daniels is at 43.3 percent, and Malachi Flynn, the team’s second leading scorer at 15.6 points, has converted the most three-pointers (40).
Washington State attempts a Pac-12-high 31 three-pointers per game, which accounts for 52.4 percent of its field-goal attempts. The Cougars, who average 76.6 points, receive 47.6 percent of their scoring from behind the arc.
In theory WSU’s three-point prowess is the perfect weapon to combat Washington (11-4, 1-1) in Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup at Beasley Coliseum.
Kent cautions the Cougars to not become overly dependent on the long ball against the Huskies.
“You have to beat them off the bounce,” he said. “You’ve got to attack with more layups. Not necessarily pounding it inside to low-post players, but certainly driving it inside and getting more layups and that becomes your low-post game. I’m comfortable with it, but I think the game will dictate what we do with the three-point line.”
The Cougars run various zone schemes, including 1-3-1 and 2-3 lineups, but they also rely on a man-to-man defense whereas the Huskies have forged an identity with their zone under first-year coach Mike Hopkins.
Washington has fared well against several three-point shooting teams, including a 74-65 road win against then-No. 2 Kansas. The Jayhawks shoot 40.9 percent on three-pointers and their top three scorers are 43-percent shooters from downtown.
Still, UW held KU to just 5 of 20 three-pointers.
“We’ve played a lot of teams this year that averaged about 30 threes, 28 threes, that put up a lot of threes,” UW junior guard David Crisp said. “But the way we run our defense, we don’t give up threes. We don’t give up open threes. Everything is contested, or we’re running you off the line. It will be nothing different from the other teams we’ve played that shoot a lot of threes.”
Washington is last in the Pac-12 in opponents’ field goal percentage (45.4) and 10th in scoring defense (76.1 points per game), but it’s first in steals (8.9) and third in blocks (5.5).
For Hopkins, Saturday is an introduction to the UW-WSU in-state rivalry.
“I’m excited to experience it for the first time and be a part of it, and it’ll be a great challenge for us,” he said. “We’ve seen three-point shooting teams, goes back to earlier in the year, it’s given us a lot of experience against it. Should be a great challenge.”