"We're down to the last lap," he said. "This is crunch time."
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WSU (16-7 overall, 6-5 Pac-10) lost 69-43 on Thursday at Oregon before recovering to win 61-55 Saturday at Oregon State.
"I do think our guys understood what was at stake going into the game," Bone said. "We got after it right away. I thought that was a key ingredient in that game to get off to a good start. I think there are some signs of maturity with this group."
And the Cougars won just their second Pac-10 road game of the year despite junior wing Klay Thompson's struggles. Thompson, who entered the game against OSU averaging a conference-best 21.9 points per game, finished with six points.
"That's happened a few times," Bone said. "Our guys have been able to rally and get the job done."
Bone was asked if Thompson is pressing, but said he was not sure.
"I think Klay desperately wants to play well and wants us to win," he said. "I know we're getting his best effort almost every minute he's on the court. Klay's human and every once in awhile he'll have a bad game."
THOMPSON'S SHOOTING WOES, he was 2 of 7 from the field, in addition to foul trouble enabled Bone to play freshmen Will DiIorio and Patrick Simon more minutes. Simon played 11 minutes against the Beavers, while DiIorio was in for three. Bone praised DiIorio's instincts and energy and Simon's court awareness, while adding that he hopes the latter "gets that shooting touch back that he had earlier in the year." Another freshman, point guard Dre Winston, did not play, but Bone said he also has been an important contributor at times.
Bone said it is challenging for any competitor to play limited minutes, but said all three freshmen have made seamless transitions to the court when called upon.
"We really appreciate that," he said. "That's a hard role to be in. But I think all three of those kids as freshmen have handled it well."
All three played during the Cougars' last game against Stanford, a 61-58 win Jan. 15 at Maples Pavilion, as sophomore point guard Reggie Moore was suspended for that game after being charged Jan. 4 by the Whitman County prosecutor's office on possession of marijuana and paraphernalia charges.
Bone said Moore's contribution "theoretically" should help the team, but noted that junior guard Faisal Aden played well as a starter at Stanford, scoring 20 points.
The Cougars are 4-1 in Pac-10 home games, while the Cardinal (12-10, 5-6) has one victory in four conference road contests. Bone said he is aware Stanford has struggled on the road, but added that is typical for many teams.
He was complimentary of the Cardinal's front court, which includes junior Josh Owens and freshman Dwight Powell. The 6-foot-8 Owens averages 11.8 points per game and a team-best seven rebounds and 0.9 steals per contest for Stanford.
"I think he's really good," Bone said. "He's long, active, very athletic. He runs the floor very well. He really provides a lot of positive things for Stanford."
Bone said he likes the position his team is in at this point of the season.
"I like the fact that we beat a very good Washington team at home," he said, referring to his team's 87-80 win Jan. 30. "I was really disappointed in our effort at Oregon. I thought it was a real test of character (against OSU) and our guys did a great job."
Wins against both the Cardinal and Golden Bears (13-10, 6-5) would place WSU in no worse than sole possession for fourth place in the conference.
"They're both good teams," Bone said. "We're right there with them. They're critical games. We need to get these things done."
Another week of, dare say, must games for WSU
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