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Moore: WSU AD in a tough spot with state of Cougs’ basketball program

The WSU Cougars are 1-8 in conference play, second-worst in the Pac-12. (AP)

Most people don’t care about the Washington State men’s basketball team. And it’s reached the point where even passionate Cougs don’t care about the basketball team.

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No one goes to the games at Beasley Coliseum. When I see photos of what it looks like there, I shake my head at how bad the attendance is. It looks like you could go to a game and count the number of fans there, and at some games, I’m guessing you wouldn’t come close to a thousand.

I get it, the team is terrible, and it’s been terrible for a long time now with no end in sight. Yet some of us continue to watch because we’re either sick or loyal or stupid or, I don’t know, maybe hoping that something is going to change for the better at some point.

Like two weeks ago at Oregon. The Cougars shot 77 percent in the first half and led 39-35. OK, that was fun, but then I thought, wait a minute, we shot 77 percent and we’re up by only four points? Sure enough, when the shots stopped falling, the Cougs lost their lead in the second half and lost the game 78-58.

Entering the second half of the conference season, the Cougs are 1-8 in Pac-12 play, the polar opposite in excitement and success to what’s happening at Washington, where the Dawgs are 9-0 and the class of the conference.

I’ll be surprised to the point of being shocked, maybe even flabbergasted if we win another game the rest of the season. The Cougars have two Division I caliber players in senior Robert Franks and freshman C.J. Elleby. Franks has been very good, looking every bit the part of a potentially decent NBA player. Elleby’s been fantastic and fun to watch. This team would be much better if Malachi Flynn had not transferred to San Diego State, but he’s just one of a flock of players who have left WSU since Ernie Kent arrived as the coach in 2014.

If this were Kent’s second or third year, I’d cut him some slack. If it were his fourth year, I’d maybe still cut him some slack. But let’s be clear about this — it’s his fifth year! He has had enough time to show progress in the program, and for the most part, aside from a Wooden Legacy championship last year — in hindsight, how the heck did that happen? — the Cougs have struggled in a big way.

By the numbers, and by the naked eye, we’re not even competitive, losing the eight Pac-12 games by an average of 17.7 points. What bothers me more than anything else is the lack of defense. In those eight losses, the Cougars have given up an average of 86.3 points. I sit there and talk to myself and say, ‘OK, I know we’re not that talented, but can’t Ernie get those kids to play better defense?’

I’m sure he’d say it’s a function of the fast pace they play and a lack of size inside, or something else, and then I watch the Huskies and think, ‘Man, it sure would be nice to see the Cougs play defense like that.’

The Cougars are 15-48 in Pac-12 play under Kent. His Pac-12 record is not as bad as Paul Graham’s from 1999-2003 (9-63), but when you start mentioning Graham’s name in conjunction with Kent’s, it can’t be a good thing.

When I said there’s no end in sight, it’s true. Before he left his alma mater for Nebraska, Bill Moos gave Kent another contract extension, rolling over his deal and guaranteeing his salary through 2022. So if Pat Chun fired Kent today, the Cougs would owe him $1.4 million for next year, $1.4 million for the following year and $1.4 million for the year after that, a total of $4.2 million.

To this point, he’s made, what, $5 million or so, or $333,333 per Pac-12 victory. If anything pounded home how bad the Cougs are this year, it was this: in December, the Cougars lost to Santa Clara 79-71. A month later, Gonzaga beat Santa Clara 98-39. That’s a difference of 66 points! Can you imagine what the score would be if the Cougs had played Gonzaga this year? How can a Pac-12 team located 80 miles south of Spokane be that much worse than the Zags?

It’s seems so long ago now, 11 years in fact, since Tony Bennett took the Cougs to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. I tell my kids about it, and they look at me in disbelief, as if it doesn’t seem possible that Washington State, once upon a time, had a really good basketball team. Remember that team? It played defense!

So I don’t know, I guess I’m just venting because its a tough one for AD Pat Chun. How do you come up with $4.2 million to buy out Kent? But how can you continue to pay him? At what point do you cut your losses and walk away from the table?

There has to be a solution, what it is, I don’t know, but I’d start by finding an assistant coach at any program anywhere or an accomplished high school coach. Anyone who would be thrilled to be the head coach at Washington State and wouldn’t care what he was making, just grateful for the opportunity. Wouldn’t that guy be a better option than what the Cougars have now?