This Week in WSU Hoops

HEADING INTO THE home stretch of Washington State's 2013-14 men's basketball season – and likely Ken Bone's Cougar coaching tenure – an interesting opinion came out over the weekend regarding who's to blame for WSU's basketball mess.

Vince Grippi, a Spokesman-Review freelancer, is of the opinion that Washington State basketball is in its current predicament not because of Ken Bone, but Jim Sterk. It was the former WSU athletic director who erred in hiring Bone, rather that finding a coach who fit the players and system set in place by Dick and Tony Bennett.

To wit:

"Yes, it's not Bone's fault. It's Jim Sterk's. If you want to blame anyone for Washington State's basketball fall from grace, blame the former athletic director. When Sterk hired Dick Bennett more than a decade ago to rescue a program made irrelevant by Paul Graham, it was a brilliant move. … WSU was able to attract players that could help it win. And the Cougars did, especially during Tony's three seasons following his father's retirement.

But when Bennett hightailed it back east, Sterk made a huge misstep. Don't misinterpret this: Ken Bone was – and is – a fine basketball coach. He just wasn't the right fit at Washington State when he was hired. His style of basketball, the style that allowed him to win at Seattle Pacific and Portland State, didn't fit with the players Washington State had in its program or on the way. … What Bone was faced with was a lot like turning the Titanic. It wasn't going to happen quickly and the question was, could he survive if he hit an iceberg? The answer, as we see now, is no. And that's Sterk's mistake. He set up Bone for failure."

Look, Sterk deserves some blame for WSU's current basketball problems, largely because of the ridiculously lengthy contract he awarded Bone. But to say it's Sterk's fault, and not Bone?

This criticism would have been valid two seasons into Bone's tenure. But five years in, this is Bone's mess, not Sterk's. Even if you buy the notion that Sterk should have hired a coach of Bennett's ilk, Bone has had five years to remake this program how he sees fit. Maybe the Bennett players didn't fit Bone's style, but those players are long gone.

Bone has had plenty of time to recruit players to fit his style. Has Bone had some bad luck? Sure. But what coach over five or 10 years doesn't encounter a few hiccups? The bottom line is, Bone has been unsuccessful as a recruiter, and it shows in the bottom line: a 2-14 Pacific-12 record heading into the final weekend of league play.

Also, it's not as if the Bennett way is the only way to succeed in Pullman. Kelvin Sampson didn't exactly play a grind-it-out style at Washington State, and he made it work. There are myriad examples throughout America of college basketball coaches who have succeeded at unlikely outposts.

It's not easy at Washington State. It didn't work for Ken Bone, but to say his failure is Sterk's fault is a reach.

USC, UCLA at Cougs

USC: 8 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU

The series: Trojans lead 69-46

UCLA: 8 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports 1

The series: Bruins lead 102-15

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The week ahead: Washington State (9-19, 2-14) gets the season's first look at the Los Angeles schools this week, as it's Southern California (10-19, 1-15) at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by UCLA (22-7, 11-5) at 8 p.m. Saturday.

As bad as this season has been for the Cougars, there's something at stake this week. Namely, how about not finishing last in league? Washington State can avoid that plight should it beat the hapless Trojans on Thursday.

Also on Saturday, the Cougars can impress a large group of football recruits in the house for Junior Day, as well put a crimp in UCLA's plans to wrap up the Pac-12 tournament's No. 2 seed.

If Washington State beats USC, it will clinch the No. 11 seed, meaning the Cougars play the No. 6 seed in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. As it currently stands, the sixth seed could be half the league. California, Stanford and Colorado are tied for fourth at 9-7, and Washington, Oregon and Utah tied for seventh at 8-8.

The Trojans' 1-15 record isn't a fluke. They lost a couple games in overtime (Oregon State, Stanford), but most of the losses have been convincing and not really that close. Eleven of the 15 defeats are by double digits. USC's lone win came against California, a 77-69 victory in Los Angeles.

Junior guard Bryon Wesley is easily the team's best player. Wesley leads USC in scoring at 17 points a game, but he's struggled of late. Wesley didn't make a road trip two weeks ago for violating unspecified team rules, and managed just 21 points combined last week against the Oregon schools.

The Trojans have two other double-digit scorers in senior guards Pe'Shon Howard (10.9 ppg) and J.T. Terrell (10.2 ppg).

WSU-USC matches the two worst scoring offenses and shooting teams in the Pac-12. The Cougars have won four of the past five games against USC. Since 2004, WSU is 15-6 against the Trojans.

The same can't be said about Saturday's opponent, UCLA. These aren't the John Wooden Bruins, but the Cougars play as though the Wizard still walks the sidelines. Since 1988, Washington State has won exactly four times against UCLA, although the Cougars won the lat time the two teams played, in Pullman last March.

UCLA will be a challenge for the Cougars, because the Bruins score in bunches, and as we all know, scoring is a problem for WSU. UCLA averages 82.6 points a game, second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon. The Bruins shoot .489 from the field, and a league-best .400 from 3-point range.

If the NCAA tournament were to start today, ESPN's Bracketology has UCLA as a No. 5 seed. With a good late run and perhaps a Pac-12 tournament title, it's conceivable the Bruins could get as high as a three seed in the NCAAs.

UCLA has four players averaging double digits, led by Jordan Adams at 17.4 points per game. The Bruins sophomore guard has had some of his biggest games of late, with 28 points against California and 24 against Oregon State and Utah.

Sophomore forward Kyle Anderson is UCLA's most complete player, averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Also to watch are Norman Powell (11.2 ppg), Zach LaVine (10.7 ppg), Bryce Alford (8.3 ppg) and Tony Parker (7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg).

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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