Will Cougar D be difference in Pac-12 opener?

WASHINGTON STATE DOES not have the stars that helped guide it to the National Invitational Tournament Final Four last season, but it has superior depth at the guard positions. Coach Ken Bone discussed what that enables his team to accomplish and talked about opening Pac-12 play against the Oregon schools this week at Spokane Arena during his Wednesday teleconference.

There might not be a certain NBA prospect, such as former WSU standout Klay Thompson, among the guards and wings, but Bone said he has six players he feels "really comfortable" with playing those spots.

Among them are senior Faisal Aden, who averages a team-high 15.3 points per game, senior Marcus Capers, juniors Mike Ladd and Reggie Moore, redshirt freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew and freshman DaVonté Lacy.

"It allows us to turn the heat up defensively and it allows us to hold guys accountable," Bone said. "We have a lot of guys that are interchangeable. If there's one guy who's not doing his job, there's a guy sitting next to me who's ready."

He said sophomore Will DiIorio is another player who can give the regulars some rest. Even with Aden (concussion) and Ladd (thumb) missing multiple games, DiIorio only averaged eight minutes per game in nonconference play. But Bone said that is because the coaches wanted Kernich-Drew to gain experience.

The Cougars (8-4) have used their rotation, which lately has consisted of nine players, to play an intense defense. Opponents have shot just 38.2 percent -- 31.9 percent on 3-pointers -- against WSU.

That will be important again at 6 p.m. Thursday when the Cougars play Oregon (9-3). The Ducks are not a strong shooting team -- they convert just 44.6 percent of their shots -- but feature one of the conference's top outside shooters in senior Garrett Sim, who has hit 47.8 percent of his 3-pointers en route to 12.8 points per game. He teams in the backcourt with others who can shot beyond the arch, such as leading scorer Devoe Joseph, a transfer from Minnesota, who averages 14.3 points per game.

Bone said Joseph, a senior, is a multi-talented guard who can be as effective slashing to the basket as shooting.

"They're really a good shooting team, especially outside the three-point line," said Bone, who also mentioned Johnathan Loyd (38.5 percent on 3-pointers) and E.J. Singler (35.9) as capable outside shooters.

IT DOES NOT get any easier at 3 p.m. Saturday when WSU faces Oregon State (TV: Root Sports). The Cougars are 25-19 against the Beavers since their legendary coach Ralph Miller retired after the 1988-89 season.

But many feel OSU (10-2) features its best team since its last conference championship in 1990. Led by junior Jared Cunningham's 16.8 points per game, the Beavers scored the eight most points (83.4) and shot better (49.6) than all but a dozen teams. Bone called OSU the most improved team in the conference.

Given that the Cougars do not return to Friel Court until Jan. 19 against Stanford, Bone said this week's games against the Oregon schools are significant.

"It's really important," Bone said. "We don't play a home game until our sixth game of conference. It's really important that we take care of business this weekend."

Even though WSU was picked to tie for 10th place in the Pac-12 preseason poll, Bone said his expectations have not shifted.

"I feel the same way that I did at that time," he said. "I feel like we can compete with the best teams in our conference. Right now that appears to be California and Stanford."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Bone said he could envision Aden, who has played two games since returning from his injury, working his way back into the starting lineup. He also has no problem with Aden, who attempted 15 field goals en route to a game-high 17 points during Thursday's 67-56 win Thursday against Pepperdine at KeyArena, taking a high volume of shots.

    "I feel comfortable with him taking 15, 20 or 25 as long as they're within what we're doing," Bone said.

    He said the Cougars will stick with the same starting lineup they have featured in recent games.

  • Bone said WSU practiced Monday in Pullman and worked out for the first time Tuesday at Spokane Arena.

  • Tyrone Nared, a 6-foot-8 Oregon forward, will not play Thursday because of an injury he suffered to his left knee Dec. 12, according to the Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Ore.


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