Bone says Cougars not alone in improvement

THERE IS NOT a team in the Pac-10 that Washington State has experienced less success against than UCLA. For that reason, forgive WSU coach Ken Bone if he does not place much emphasis on some of the Bruins' struggles as they enter conference play. The Cougars (10-2) play at 8 p.m. Wednesday at UCLA (8-4). It will be televised on Fox Sports Net.

"If they play BYU or Kansas, they step up to the plate," Bone said during his Tuesday teleconference. "Like anyone, they're probably anxious for conference play."

While the Cougars are not ranked, they surprised some during the nonconference portion of the schedule. They defeated No. 15 Baylor during last week's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu and also had blow-out wins against Gonzaga and Mississippi State. WSU also lost 63-58 on Dec. 3 against No. 5 Kansas State.

"When you look at the whole preseason, we have done a nice job defensively," Bone said. "Guys understand what we're trying to accomplish."

He said experience is the biggest reason behind that. While the Cougars do not feature a senior on their roster, all five starters played significant minutes last season. Bone previously cited his team's performance against KSU and Gonzaga compared with last season as some examples of that improvement. Those teams combined to beat Bone's squad by 22 points a year ago.

"There have been situations similar to last year and we've handled them better," he said. "That just comes with experience of doing it before."

One of the most significant improvements has been on the defensive end. Opponents have shot just 36.9 percent against the Cougars, which is the lowest mark any team has produced against a Pac-10 program.

But in a 84-68 loss against Butler in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic on Saturday, the Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field. Bone said the zone scheme WSU has used with success against other teams simply did not work well against Butler.

"We got exposed a little bit by Butler," he said. "They have an upper class that knows the system. They execute really quickly. They play hard, fast and are very polished."

Bone said teams can make adjustments — he noted that Gonzaga saw more zone defenses after the Cougars won that game — but he added that it is important not to deviate too much from what they have practiced throughout the season.

UC IRVINE FOCUSED on containing UCLA posts Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith during its Dec. 23 game against the Bruins. The Anteaters lost, 74-73, but double-teamed Nelson and Smith each team they touched the ball. It appeared to be more disruptive to Nelson, who scored eight points on 2 of 5 shooting. Smith had 14 points.

Bone, who later said he was happy with how his team's has defended the post, did not directly state whether his team would use a similar scheme against UCLA.

WSU, which has won just twice in its history at Pauley Pavilion, should have no problem acclimating back to the Pacific Time Zone. Bone said his team arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday and has practiced twice. The Cougars toured Universal Studios and watched a movie Monday and he is allowing the team to spend one hour this afternoon at Venice Beach.

When WSU returns to the hardwood against UCLA and at 3 p.m. Friday at USC (TV: FSN-NW), Bone said his team can expect to see an improved Pac-10.

"We lost maybe a few games that we shouldn't have early, but so did a lot of conferences," Bone said. "(There are) more teams with more depth and experience."

He said that also applies to his team, specifically referring to the Cougars' performance in the Diamond Head Classic, where it defeated a pair of teams from major conferences.

"We showed we could play with some pretty good teams," Bone said. "I feel like we came away from that tournament feeling like we could play with some pretty good teams from around the country."

Cougfan Top Stories