Bone ponders as many as four of five spots

KEN BONE SAID after the win Saturday over Stanford there might be lineup changes coming -- but he didn't mention which of the five starting spots he was looking at. Today, he did.

With the exception of sophomore Klay Thompson, who ranks fifth nationally with an average of 22.9 points per game, Bone is examining every other starter. He said that most likely would involve inserting either senior forward Nikola Koprivica or freshman guard Xavier Thames -- or both -- into the starting lineup. Koprivica would replace sophomore Abe Lodwick, while Thames could displace sophomore Marcus Capers or freshman Reggie Moore.

Bone said during his Tuesday morning news conference that no changes have been made yet for when the Cougs play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at USC (no TV scheduled) and 1 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (Fox Sports Net).

"I don't really care to juggle a lineup too often," he said. "It messes with kids' heads."

BUT WSU'S PERFORMANCES last week might force him into changes. During Thursday's 93-88 loss against California, the Cougars trailed 28-8 less than eight minutes into the game. WSU also fell behind Stanford, 10-2, early before building a 20-point halftime lead. They then had another slow start to the second half.

"The way we have performed recently, there might need to be a change," Bone said.

He said another change could involve sophomore Charlie Enquist or freshman James Watson replacing sophomore DeAngelo Casto at center.

"My guess is we won't make a change, but there definitely is a chance," Bone said. "There are certain segments of the game we need to get better at."

AMONG THE FOUR starters, Lodwick (14.1 minutes per game) is the only one who plays less than his backup, Koprivica (22.2). The latter is superior in most statistical categories, including points per game (8.6 to 3.1) and three-point shooting (48.9 percent to 40.7 percent).

But Bone said Koprivica is one of his few players with the versatility to play multiple positions.

"Nik is about as high of a basketball IQ team on our team," he said.

In addition to playing power forward, Koprivica also can substitute for Thompson at the wing. Bone said he feels Thompson would perform better if he played around 30 minutes per game -- he averages 35.3 -- and that would not be possible with Koprivica starting.

Koprivica generally finishes games, which some coaches feel is more important than starting. Bone prefers to view that through game situations. He noted that playing his team's best lineup together might come when a game is tight rather than at the end, when the outcome already could be determined.

Bone said he also wants a bench that is not a drop off from the starters and might be even better in some areas. There also are some players that perform better as reserves. Koprivica is putting up his best statistics in that role after starting 18 games last season.

"I think there are some kids who are more comfortable coming off the bench," Bone said. "Nik might be that guy, but I have not had that conversation with him."

GETTING MORE CONSISTENCY will be crucial as the Cougars finish the first half of conference play with three consecutive road games. It begins with the Trojans (11-6, 3-2), who have the No. 1 adjusted defense in the country according to basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy's ratings.

"He (coach Kevin O'Neill) has them playing together as a group so much better than before Christmas," Bone said. "They're physical, athletic and quick. They're really solid on both ends of the court."

Both WSU and USC are vying for positioning in the Pac-10 where first-place Arizona State, which is 4-2 in conference play, only leads last-place UCLA (7-10, 2-3) by 1 1/2 games. The Cougars then play at Washington (12-5, 3-3) on Jan. 30.

Bone did not underscore the importance of closing out the first half well.

"It's really important," he said. "Hopefully we can knock off a team or two. I think these three games will tell a lot about where we are as a program."

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