Bone likes WSU's defensive progress

WASHINGTON STATE HAS experienced a shift in styles going from the slow-paced teams of the Bennett era to Ken Bone's uptempo system. Despite the statistical downturn, Bone likes his team's progress on defense. In addition, he discusses the series of "home" games away from Friel Court, playing his former Portland State team and the possibility of adding a post during the late signing period.

Basketball conversations between Washington State fans often begin with defense.

After all, the Cougars were among the country's highest-ranked teams on that side of the ball during the last six seasons under Dick and Tony Bennett.

First-year WSU coach Ken Bone acknowledged upon his hiring that he would play more of an uptempo offensive style that he used in previous stints at Seattle Pacific and Portland State.

THE RESULT HAS been a transformation in the Cougars' statistics. According to well-known basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy, WSU ranks third in the Pac-10 and 29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (113.8). But the Cougars' defense is last in the Pac-10 and 210th overall (102.9).

But the latter number has steadily improved and Bone said during his Wednesday news conference he is happy with the team's defensive improvement. WSU has deviated somewhat from Dick Bennett's patent pack defense and extends pressure more frequently.

"Looking at the Idaho game, there was a stretch during that game where we played outstanding defense," said Bone, referring to the 76-64 win Wednesday. "We looked at the clips yesterday where we played outstanding defense. I think the kids have shown great improvement in halfcourt defense."

THE COUGARS (8-2) will need to continue that when they play at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Portland State (5-5) at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. The Vikings graduated leading scorer Jeremiah Dominguez, a 5-foot-6 guard who hit 43.6 percent of his 3-pointers last season, but they might be even more explosive than last season.

"We definitely know what to expect," Bone said. "It's a team that plays with a lot of energy. They shoot a tremendous amount of three-point shot and unfortunately hit a lot. They're a team that can put up points on the offensive end."

Dominguez led the team in points per game last season (12.9), but four players -- guards Melvin Jones (13.0) and Dominic Waters (17.9) and forwards Jamie Jones (12.2) and Phil Nelson (12.5) -- all are near or better than that number. All four shoot at least 46 percent from the field and PSU makes 51 percent of its field goals.

"We hope to be able to be on them when they catch the ball and not give them a good look at the basket," Bone said.

THE VIKINGS RANK 19th nationally in offense (115.6) according to Pomeroy, but are just 340th in defense (115.6). PSU has surrendered more than 100 points twice in losses this season against Washington (111-55) and at Saint Mary's College (101-80).

Bone said that is somewhat a byproduct of the uptempo offense that Tyler Geving, his former PSU assistant, runs. But he hopes that sophomore Klay Thompson, who averages 25.1 points per game, and others will be able to take advantage of it.

He said his offense can continue to improve with better execution. He cited indecisiveness through excessive dribbling and offensive rebounding as areas that could improve.

Before WSU lost its first game, 74-69, Dec. 2 at Gonzaga, Bone was asked about his team's ability to handle a difficult crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane.

NOW BONE WILL face the team that he led to the NCAA Tournament the last couple of seasons -- the only appearances in program history. He was asked if he would have "mixed emotions" heading into the contest.

"No," he said. "I enjoyed the time I was there, but I'm a Washington State Cougar coach. I hope they have a great year, but for this particular game I would like to see us outscore them by at least one."

THE GAME WILL be the second of three "home" contests played away from Friel Court. Bone said ideally he would like to play all home games in Pullman, but understands that attendance becomes an issue when students are away from campus during the semester break.

He described the situation as "unique" because all of the games, which began with Saturday's 75-68 win against Air Force in the Spokane Arena and will conclude Tuesday against Louisiana State at KeyArena, are consecutive and during the same season.

The Cougars had to play at least once in Spokane this season because they are hosting the NCAA regionals, and the Seattle game has been played annually since 2006.

"I don't want to say it's difficult," said Bone, adding that there are strong alumni contingents in the Tri-Cities and Seattle. "It's just part of playing college basketball. You don't play all your games on your home court."

  • There was some speculation that WSU might add a post player during the late signing period, but Bone denied that. He signed Ephrata forward Patrick Simon and junior-college guard Faisel Aden last month.

    Only forward Nikola Koprivica graduates, which leaves the Cougars one player above the NCAA maximum 13 scholarship athletes for basketball. Bone said there are no scholarships remaining unless "something unforeseen" occurs.

    But he added that true freshmen Steven Bjornstad and Brock Motum and redshirt freshman James Watson all are progressing and added that post players often take longer to develop than guards.

    "We're working hard on developing the young kids in our program," Bone said. "I'm not sure they're ready to be looked at really quality Pac-10 kids right now, but neither was Aron Baynes when he started."

  • Koprivica had a career-high 11 rebounds and played 20 minutes against Air Force, but Bone said the starting lineup will remain the same against PSU.

    That means sophomore Abe Lodwick, who played just seven minutes against the Falcons, will start at power forward. DeAngelo Casto and Thompson both have started every game, while guards Marcus Capers and Reggie Moore have nine starts.

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