Homecoming might be cure for second-half woes

WASHINGTON STATE COACH Ken Bone, fresh off two blown double-digit halftime leads at the Northern California, talks about turning the trend and how returning to Friel Court could help matters. He also discusses UCLA, the Cougars' improvement this season and their post play.

Washington State might be the best 20-minute team in the Pac-10.

The Cougars held double-digit leads last week at Stanford and California, but lost both games.

Coach Ken Bone blamed the team's depth, inexperience and himself for WSU's second-half woes. He said perhaps he needs to give his starters more rest during the first half, but added that it likely would result in less success early in the game.

"There's give-and-take in almost everything we do," Bone said.

Klay Thompson, who scored a game-high 28 points during Saturday's 86-70 loss at Cal, played 38 minutes but left briefly during the second half as the Bears were extending their lead. Bone said his objective is to get his top players some rest before the game's final minutes.

BUT THE COUGARS' bench players -- freshmen Brock Motum, Xavier Thames and James Watson and sophomore Michael Harthun -- only produced four points in 47 combined minutes.

Bone hopes returning to Friel Court will help alleviate some of those issues. WSU (15-10 overall, 5-8 conference) plays three consecutive home games before closing out Pac-10 play during the first week of March at the Oregon schools. The Cougars host UCLA (11-13, 6-6) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and USC (15-9, 7-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday this week. The game against the Bruins will be televised on Fox Sports Northwest.

While Bone said he does not feel road fatigue played into last week's losses, he said returning home could benefit his team. The Cougars are 3-3 at home in conference play, including a 78-60 win Feb. 7 against Arizona. WSU led by six points at halftime in that game.

"It's harder to sustain that energy on the road than at home," Bone said. "I believe it's easy to do that at home with the energy behind you."

IT BEGINS WITH UCLA, which has not lost in Pullman since 1993. The Bruins won the first meeting between the schools, 74-62, on Jan. 23. The Cougars shot just 35.6 percent from the field in that game, while UCLA hit 59.1 percent of its shots.

"We need to look for better quality shots," said Bone, adding that the Bruins play at a slower tempo.

WSU played some zone defense in that game in addition to other contests. UCLA converted 6 of 13 3-pointers against the Cougars.

Bone acknowledged that his team's zone scheme "is not great," but he runs into some of the same personnel issues that he believes have resulted in the second-half meltdowns. He said when the team played exclusively man-to-man defense early in the season, it struggled to contain post players because of its lack of size. Bone said while that has improved when the team uses a zone, it also has made it vulnerable to 3-pointers.

WSU arguably played its best defense in wins against Arizona and at USC. Bone thought the 67-60 win Jan. 21 against the Trojans particularly was significant. He feels USC's starters might be the most talented in the conference.

LAST WEEK, BONE talked about the importance of wins to position his team for postseason play. He said that remains crucial, but stopped short of saying it is make-or-break because the winner of the Pac-10 Tournament receives an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Despite the Cougars' recent woes, Bone said he feels his team has improved. He said defense has been a significant focus during practices and it has improved. Bone feels his team has done "a good job possession by possession of holding our opponents down." Offensively, he said the team has improved at sharing the ball.

"I'm excited about the progress we've made," Bone said. "I've seen some really good signs. I'm excited about some of the minutes our guys have put together."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Bone said playing sophomore DeAngelo Casto and Watson together gives WSU more of a defensive presence in the post and improves its rebounding. But he said he is reticent to play them together too often because of the team's lack of depth. Charlie Enquist, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, remains sidelined because of an ankle injury, which means freshman Steven Bjornstad could be forced into significant minutes if Casto and Watson played together often.

  • There has been some speculation that athletic director Jim Sterk left WSU to accept a similar position at San Diego State on Monday because he and president Elson Floyd did not get along. But Bone said he believes the two were close.

    He said Sterk, whom he has known since the two worked together in 1990 at Seattle Pacific, called him on Friday to say he was leaving. Bone said he does not know specifically why Sterk left.

    "I and the rest of the staff are sorry to see him leave because he's such a quality guy and a good administrator," Bone said. "Jim's a great person and everyone enjoyed working with him and for him."


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