HOOPS: Student section set to rock Friel

KEN BONE IS a basketball lifer, but his disposition would have been perfect for baseball. The nature of baseball, with its long seasons and day-after-day schedule of games demands that players, managers and coaches limit emotional highs and lows for the most part.

Ken Bone's angular face rarely hints at whether Washington State won or lost when he meets with the media after games. No doubt the calm, collected manner of the coach has played a significant role in the 12-4 record posted midway through the season by one of the youngest teams in the country.

When the Cougars were trampled 76-41 Sunday by an underwhelming Arizona State team, Bone seemed fairly comfortable acknowledging WSU's poor play, complimenting the Sun Devils' fine performance and providing perspective about one loss.

"It's only the second time this year we've been beat badly," Bone noted.

Indeed, the youthful Cougars have been blown out in only one other game, an 86-69 loss Dec. 5 at Kansas State. Since the Wildcats are currently 13-2 and ranked 13th, that loss doesn't look all that bad now.

Bone pointed out that the Cougars bounced back from the K-State loss with a strong effort against Idaho. That started a four-game winning streak, and that skein would have reached seven heading into the ASU game if not for the controversial officiating decision that led to Oregon's double-overtime win.

CLASSES RESUMED MONDAY at WSU, so Bone and his players are looking forward to the jolt of energy the student section provides when the Cougars take on California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday at Friel Court.

Classes have been in session for just one game at Friel (Idaho on Dec. 9) since the Cougars beat Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 19.

Cal and Stanford are tied for first with Oregon in the jam-packed Pac-10 at 2-1, and WSU is a half game back at 2-2 with four other teams. The Bears were the preseason favorites along with Washington (1-3), but early results indicate there is nothing remotely close to a "sure" win in the Pac-10 this year.

A home sweep would pump new life into the Cougars' dream of ending a mind-numbing, 69-year stretch without a conference championship. WSU is 5-6 in Pac-10 games at Friel the past two seasons.

MOST FANS BELIEVE the refs routinely hose their team (see: Oregon game). However, unofficial stats of ESPN.com show that Washington State ranks 10th in the nation with 447 free-throw attempts.

That's a whopping 27.9 per game, tops in the Pac-10. The Cougars have already shot one more free throw all last season -- and WSU has at least 15 games left to play.

The Cougars seem certain to break the school record of 554, set in 1991-92. The Pac-10 record of 971 (!), set by Oregon in 1952-53, may be out of reach.

Klay Thompson has been leading the parade to the free-throw line for WSU. After taking just 31 freebies as a freshman last season, Thompson has followed Bone's orders to attack the basket more, and he's been to the line 119 times.

NONE OF THE Cougars are science majors, but Bone hopes they learned a lesson in chemistry at Arizona State.

Bone did not start regular starters DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers and benched key reserve James Watson for one half for being late for team activities Sunday morning. Little-used sophomore post Charlie Enquist wound up making his first college start, and freshman guard Xavier Thames made his second start.

Bone was referring specifically to the changes in the starting lineup when he said, "It's usually detrimental to what you're trying to accomplish, and I believe it was (Sunday).

"Nothing against the guys who started in place of the other kids, but it just kind of messes up your rotations."

FRESHMAN POINT GUARD Reggie Moore struggled along with the rest of the Cougars at ASU, but he was dazzling two nights earlier in a dramatic 78-76 triumph at Arizona.

"Reggie Moore was terrific … a fantastic young player," UA coach Sean Miller said.

"He did some really good things," Bone agreed. "A lot of the time, he was going against a really, really great player in Nic Wise."

CASTO HAS BLOCKED 10 more shots (33) than anyone else in the Pac-10, and he's also gaining a reputation for blocking opposing players by taking charges.

"He's one of the best in the country at drawing that charge foul," Thompson said. "He's a great post defender."

Casto scored the game-winning basket with one-tenth of a second left at Arizona, and a charging foul Casto drew with 6:48 left to play also played a huge role in the win. Talented Wildcat freshman Derrick Williams fouled out on the play after racking up 13 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots and three slam dunks in just 17 minutes on the court.

THOMPSON REMAINS FIRST in Pac-10 scoring (23.0), but he fell from first to seventh in the nation after being held to less than 10 points twice in the past three games.

Stanford's Landry Fields is eighth in the nation with 22.1 points per game, so Saturday's game in Pullman has added appeal.

  • Nick Witherill, who transferred from WSU to Division II Grand Canyon in his hometown of Phoenix, cheered on the Cougars at Arizona State while wearing a Washington State sweatshirt. Witherill, a part-time starter on the rebuilding young team at Grand Canyon, ranks fourth on the Antelopes (6-12, 0-2 Pacific West) with 8.2 points per game.

  • Another former Cougar guard, Chris Matthews, is tied for 10th in Division I with 3.3 three-point field goals per game. Matthews, a senior at St. Bonaventure (7-8, 0-2 Atlantic 10), averages 12.1 ppg.

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