Cougs continue to show off defensive prowess

PULLMAN – It's not exactly "Bennett Ball" but through eight games, Ken Bone's club (5-3) has quietly compiled an impressive run of defensive performances – and that continued on Saturday. By mixing zone and man-to-man looks against the Portland Pilots, the Cougars cruised to a 72-60 win at Beasley Coliseum.

Bone's outfit was holding opponents to just 38.9 percent shooting entering the game. The Cougars limited Idaho to 41.5 percent shooting and just 55 points on Wednesday. Arkansas-Pine Bluff managed a measly 38 points on 30 percent shooting in WSU's 28-point win last week.

Eric Reveno's Portland squad, picked to finish eighth in the West Coast Conference's preseason poll, didn't fare much better.

WSU held their WCC foe to 28 percent shooting in the first half, 36 percent for the game. At one point, the Pilots went six minutes without a field goal as WSU built a 33-23 halftime lead. D.J. Shelton followed a 14-point performance against the Vandals with two impressive blocks in the first half before picking up two fouls.

"I think we've done a good job defensively this year," Bone said. "With the exception of the Kansas game I'd be curious to know what teams are averaging against us in the first half. We've played pretty good defense this year."

Brock Motum garnered the loudest cheer of the night from the 4,513 in attendance when he sent a Pilots player's shot attempt screaming back at him midway through the second half. Moments later, Shelton stepped in and was flattened by Korey Thieleko on an out-of-control drive to the basket, drawing the charge.

It's those types of hustle plays that will prove paramount to WSU's success, according to Bone.

"Our work ethic is good," Bone said. "These kids – I think they recognize that maybe we're not overly talented or overly gifted. We don't have a bunch of future NBA guys on our roster like some teams do. I think our guys understand that if we're going to compete we got to bring it.

"It's fun to go to practice every day and it's fun to watch them play. They're going to make mistakes but it's not because of the effort."

While stout defensively in the paint, WSU continued its habit of failing to pick up open three-point shooters in the second half. The Pilots scored 37 points after intermission and finished 11-for-25 from three.

"I think they had guys who didn't hit as many in the post as they usually do in other games so we did a good job on that," he said. "Obviously we need to focus on the three-point line."

Woolridge felt the same way after the best game of his college career before noting that preparation for Gonzaga begins this week in practice.

"(Gonzaga) has a lot of big post players so we're probably going to work a lot on post defense along with getting a little bit better at defending the three-point line because that's something we've been struggling with," he said.

Portland's offensive lowlight came when leading scorer Ryan Nicholas lost track of the shot clock, forcing him to chuck a wild airball. At that point, the Cougars held a 57-40 advantage with 10 minutes remaining that allowed them to earn an easy win.

  • Motum again lead WSU in scoring, collecting 29 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes of action. After a slow start, the Aussie finished 10-of-20 from the floor and 2-of-3 from beyond-the-arc. The pair of treys doubled his three-point total this season.

  • Royce Woolridge netted a career-high 20 points, rebounding from a dismal 0-for-8 shooting line against Idaho. He knocked down three treys in 33 minutes, converting 6-of-11 shots and five-of-six free throws.

  • Combining for 63 minutes in Bone's point guard "by committee" system, Mike Ladd and Woolridge combined for eight assists and zero turnovers. The Cougars turned the ball over 12 times while the Pilots surrendered the rock on nine different possessions.

  • Dexter Kernich-Drew, bothered all season by a bad ankle, look hobbled at times during the win. He scored seven points but made only two shots in 28 minutes. Despite the physical trouble, he did manage to rise and throw down a two-handed slam after Woolridge found him on a beautiful backdoor cut late in the first half.

  • WSU now has three days to rest up before facing the 12th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs Wednesday in Pullman. The Zags built a big first half lead before a late Cougar rally fell short in their 89-81 loss.

  • Bone said there is a chance DaVonté Lacy could play next week against the Bulldogs if his knee heals in time.

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