Bone says Cougars are about where he expected

WASHINGTON STATE FANS were hoping for a surprise along the lines of the 2006-07 season when the Cougars grossly overachieved based on preseason expectations and finished second in the Pac-10. But WSU was picked to finish fifth in the conference media poll before the season, and coach Ken Bone said Tuesday that his team is not far off from what he expected.

The Cougars (18-10 overall, 8-8 Pac-10) enter the final week of the regular season in sixth place with games at 7 p.m. Thursday against USC and 2:30 p.m. Saturday versus UCLA (TV: FSN) at Friel Court.

"In regards to wins and losses, we're right about where we hoped to be," Bone said.

Bone said the disappointments and surprises essentially have been even. But unlike some, he said he never considered WSU a "shoo-in" NCAA Tournament team. Bone said he expected his team to be in contention for that toward the end of the season, and he still feels that is the case.

Without mentioning specific games, although he has discussed the losses against Stanford and at last-place Arizona State in the past, Bone said he has been disappointed a few times this season. He also has been "ecstatic" at times. Bone previously mentioned wins against Baylor and Gonzaga in nonconference play and the regular-season sweep versus Washington.

BUT THE COUGARS must win this week for that discussion to continue, Bone said. WSU had a short practice Monday following its 80-69 win at Washington on Sunday night. He said that his team's preparation is not much different than its previous win against the Huskies when the Cougars followed it with a blowout loss at Oregon.

"We're going to do the same thing in regards to preparation," Bone said. "The key for us is to turn the page onto the next game."

The Trojans (17-12, 9-7) have won their last four games to move into fourth place in the Pac-10. Bone said he particularly is considered about 6-foot-10 Nikola Vucevic, who averages 17.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

He said Vucevic belongs in the Pac-10 Player of the Year discussion with Washington's Isaiah Thomas, WSU's Klay Thompson and Arizona's Derrick Williams. Bone, who added that Vucevic's size and athleticism might make him the best NBA player of the group, said sophomore forward Brock Motum and junior center Charlie Enquist might see more time than usual because of USC's talented front line.

That includes 6-10 Alex Stephenson, who averages 10 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

"He's also very efficient," Bone said. "We've got to be aware of him. He's really good around the offensive glass. We've had problems with players like him."

He said the Cougars must rebound well and not allow the Trojans' guards to penetrate the lane for easy shots or putbacks to be successful. Bone said if WSU can accomplish that and earn its first home win against the Bruins (21-8, 12-4) since 1993, it would position itself well for an NCAA Tournament bid. He said his perspective on what it would take to earn one has changed because both Southern California teams are playing well, which means victories against them would be viewed more favorably by the selection committee.

"These games become that much more prominent," Bone said. "If you can beat them now, those would be considered great wins.

"If we're able to win both games this week and get into the Pac-10 Tournament and win a game, I think we would be considered."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • The Cougars converted 32 of 36 free throws at UW and one reporter said it appeared that Thompson was shooting more quickly from the line. But Bone said he did not notice any difference in Thompson, who converted 13 of 14 free throws, and now is converting 82.4 percent from the line.

  • If the season ended now, WSU would play Washington in its first game of the Pac-10 Tournament. But Bone said he is not concerned about what team the Cougars play at this point.

    "No matter who you play, it will be someone really good," he said. "Washington's really good."

  • Bone said everyone, including junior guard Faisal Aden, who has battled knee problems throughout the season, practiced Monday. He expects everyone to be available to play against USC.


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