Bone downplays rival's struggles

WASHINGTON STATE OPENS Pac-12 conference play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against a Washington squad that appears at its most vulnerable point in five seasons. Just do not tell coach Ken Bone that. He said during his Wednesday teleconference that the Huskies (8-5) were hindered by injuries, but with the return of multiple players helped them looked much better during Saturday's 61-53 loss at UConn.

"I thought they executed on both ends of the court," Bone said. "They just got beat by a really good team 3,000 miles away.

"I've seen a team that's starting to realize their identity. I think it helps when you have healthy bodies."

Romar's switch to a high-post offense in lieu of the departure of explosive guards Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the NBA has garnered much attention, but Bone said that does not mean UW has strayed too far away from its traditional uptempo system. According to college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy, the Huskies rank 158th among 347 programs in adjusted tempo. In comparison, the Cougars (9-4) are 319th. Bone said the Huskies still mix in their motion and passing offenses.

The Huskies also feature another NBA prospect in junior guard C.J. Wilcox, who is a projected first-round pick this summer by Wilcox averages a team-high 18.5 points per game and converts 39.5 percent of his 3-pointers. Bone compared Wilcox's offensive prowess to Ross and former WSU standout Klay Thompson.

"We need to be aware of him at all times," said Bone, noting that Connecticut, which held Wilcox to 5 points on 2 of 12 shooting, accomplished that.

Despite the presence of Wilcox, UW has struggled at times this season. Pomeroy ranks the Huskies as the 111th best team in the country, while he has the Cougars at 76th. The Huskies, who rank 181st in adjusted defense, are much worse than WSU (48th) on that side.

"I think we've done some good things and I like our guys' attention to detail on the defensive end," Bone said. "We need to work hard and sustain it throughout a possession."

Bone praised the play of senior Mike Ladd, who has emerged as the Cougars' primary ball handler. Ladd scored WSU's first eight points during Saturday's 74-39 win against Idaho State at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Ladd finished 6 of 8 from the field en route to 17 points.

"He did a good job of stepping up and that's the sign of a good leader," Bone said. "He's looking to pass, but we also need him to score."

He said the play of Arizona, UCLA and others helped the Pac-12's stature during nonconference play enough that it should be able to send three or four teams to the NCAA Tournament. No major analyst pegs WSU to advance that far, but Bone noted that none expected Colorado to reach the tournament last season before conference play began.

"It's just hard to tell how things are going to go the next two-and-a-half months," Bone said.

  • Walk-on junior forward Keaton Hayenga sustained a concussion during practice Monday. Bone said he will not be available to play against UW. Guards Dexter Kernich-Drew and Bryce Leavitt also were held out of practice today because of "minor injuries" they sustained Saturday, but Bone said both will practice Thursday and are available to play Saturday.

  • Bone cannot mention the names of potential recruits, but said senior center Brock Motum's success is beneficial toward recruiting in his native Australia. Assistant coach Ben Johnson, who played professionally in that country, is the Cougars' lead recruiter in that country. Bone said former WSU standout Aron Baynes, who played center for the Cougars from 2005-09, deserves credit for drawing attention to the program after leaving Australia. In addition to Motum, Kernich-Drew and forward James Hunter also are from Australia. Bone said his staff will continue to recruit that country.

  • The first meeting between the Cougars and Huskies has proven significant as the winner has swept both regular-season games the last nine years. The last regular-season split between the schools occurred during the 2002-03 season. Bone has a 2-5 record against UW, while Romar is 12-10 versus WSU.

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