Are Utah, CU trap games for Cougs?

NO AMOUNT OF goading or cajoling was going to get Washington State coach Ken Bone to say a negative word about this week's opponents during his Tuesday teleconference. But with contests against arguably the Pac-12's best teams coming up, Bone did emphasis the importance of Thursday's 6 p.m. contest at Utah and Saturday's game at Colorado. The latter game, which starts at 1 p.m., is on FSN.

Bone said the games are "big" for all three teams. That is because all were picked to finish at -- or near -- the bottom of the conference. And a sweep for the Cougars (9-5, 1-1) at least could provide some buffering with a game Jan. 15 at Washington and home contests Jan. 19 against Stanford and Jan. 21 versus California. Bone named that trio as the conference's elite.

No one would describe the Utes (3-10, 0-1) in that manner. Statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy recently said Utah could be the worst major conference team since Georgia Tech went winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference and finished with a 4-23 record in 1980-81. pegs the Utes at No. 293 nationally.

Their best win was 72-67 on Dec. 19 against Portland. WSU defeated that same team by 10 points -- on the road.

Just do not mention that to Bone.

"I think anytime you go on the road, it's tough," he said. "Utah doesn't have a very impressive record at this point, but they've won their last two home games."

The Utes are led by senior point guard Josh Watkins, who averages 15.1 points per game. But he shots just 39.5 percent from the field, including 18.9 percent on 3-pointers.

"I know he's a good scorer," Bone said. "He's definitely a guy who hunts his shots."

Watkins was limited to four points and converted just 1 of 12 shots during Saturday's 73-33 loss at Colorado.

The Buffaloes (9-4, 1-0) are similar to the Cougars because their top scorer from last season, guard Alec Burks, elected to forego his final season of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. He was the 12th pick by the Utah Jazz.

Without Burks, CU has relied on several players to pick up their production. The Buffaloes have four players averaging in double figures, led by senior guard Carlon Brown (12.8).

Bone said he knows both CU coach Tad Boyle (Northern Colorado) and Utah coach Larry Krystowiak (Montana) from previous coaching jobs when they played against Bone's teams at Portland State. Bone said because his focus early in the week has been one the Utes, he does now know much about the Buffaloes' personnel yet.

WHILE THAT RESEARCH BEGINS, Bone said WSU fans will see the team's personnel utilized in a different fashion moving forward. Only seven Cougars played more than a dozen minutes during Saturday's 81-76 win against Oregon State at Spokane Arena, which was a dramatic change from nonconference play.

"It's probably more of what's to come," Bone said. "There's some guys on the team that did not get into the game that have helped us throughout the season. They can play apart and help us out."

He did not elaborate on which players might see more time. Seniors Faisal Aden and Abe Lodwick each only played nine minutes.

Many of Aden's minutes seemed to go to junior Mike Ladd. He scored seven points in 13 minutes. It marked Ladd's fourth game back since missing five contests with a sprained thumb.

"He stepped in and gave us a boost right away," Bone said. "It was more like he was doing the first few games of the season before he hurt his thumb."

Another player who seems to be emerging in the rotation is sophomore D.J. Shelton. The junior-college transfer scored nine points in 12 minutes versus the Beavers. While junior Brock Motum, who scored a game-high 26 points, only sat for four minutes, Shelton spelled senior Charlie Enquist at times in the post.

Bone compared Shelton's role to that of Enquist's last season. He said Enquist was "overshadowed" by DeAngelo Casto, but still was a contributor.

"He really isn't talked about a whole lot," said Bone, referring to Shelton. "The minutes he's receiving, he's been very efficient."

  • OSU's strategy in the waning moments Saturday was to foul senior wing Marcus Capers, who converts 63.9 percent of his free throws. It did not work as Capers made 6 of 8 attempts from the stripe en route to 10 points.

    "Sitting in my seat, it's hard to second-guess a coach because I get second-guessed all of the time," Bone said. "I think Craig Robinson is a very, very good coach."

    He said he had a message for Capers afterward.

    "I said, ‘Way to shoot. Way to step up as a senior and make your free throws,' " Bone said.

    "He looked very confident to me as he walked down the court."

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