Mystery awaits rivalry game on the Palouse

WASHINGTON STATE COACH Ken Bone talked about his team's up-and-down first season, Klay Thompson's minutes against USC and Nikola Koprivica's senior season and whether he will start Saturday when the Cougars play their final home game of the season against the Huskies.

Washington State's inconsistency is reflected in its Pac-10 record at Friel Court.

The Cougars are 4-4 entering their final home game at 7 p.m. Saturday against Washington.

But even coach Ken Bone said during his Tuesday teleconference that he is not sure which WSU team fans in the building and those watching on Fox Sports Northwest will see.

After all, the Cougars lost 71-51 at home Thursday against UCLA and followed it with a 51-47 win Saturday versus USC.

"I wish I could say yeah, I'm 100 percent sure we'll bring it every possession," Bone said. "We haven't proven we can do it consistently.

"We have played with the better teams in the conference when we've played hard and a lot of focus."

THE LATTER CHARACTERISTIC is why sophomore wing Klay Thompson played 38 minutes against USC despite scoring a career-low two points. Thompson missed all 12 of his field-goal attempts. He averages 20.1 points per game.

But his work on USC's leading scorer, Dwight Lewis, kept Thompson in the game. Lewis scored 14 points, but converted just 5 of 13 shots.

"I think we all know Klay is a very talented kid," Bone said. "When he's locked in mentally, he can be a very good defender."

He frequently has compared Thompson with former UW standout Brandon Roy, who now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. Bone, who was a Huskies assistant, said Roy had his breakout game during his junior season in 2004-05 on the defensive end against North Carolina State star Julius Hodge, who scored 15 points in that game. UW won 68-64.

Bone said Thompson is a better defender than Roy was during his first two seasons and has the capability to be outstanding on that end because of his long arms and awareness.

"We're continually challenging him to be a very good defender," he said.

THOMPSON WILL NEED to be against the Huskies (18-9 overall, 8-7 conference) as he likely will defend forward Quincy Pondexter, who averages 20.3 points per game. Pondexter scored 29 points in a 92-64 win against the Cougars on Jan. 30. He recently guaranteed that UW would sweep WSU (16-11, 6-9) for a second consecutive season.

"People can say what they want," said Bone, adding that he does not believe Pondexter's statement will provide extra motivation for his team. "I'm sure that's what he believes and that's what he should believe."

Bone said there already is plenty of motivation for WSU to win. He said winning the rivalry game is more important to him than defeating another Pac-10 team, such as Arizona State.

But it also is important because the Cougars, who are in ninth place and have just three conference games remaining. They play at the Oregon schools next week and likely need to win at least two of their last three games to avoid the play-in game between the bottom two teams in the Pac-10 Tournament.

"If we could avoid being in that eighth/ninth game, we would love that," Bone said.

UW IS JUST 1-5 in conference road games. The Huskies won 78-61 on Feb. 13 at Stanford. But they also have victories in five of their last seven Pac-10 contests.

"Washington is playing good basketball right now," Bone said.

He hopes that WSU has better crowds than last week. Announced attendance was 6,566 against UCLA and 6,967 versus USC.

"I obviously hope that it's packed and loud," Bone said. "We kind of had mediocre crowds for UCLA and USC."

Barring an unusual circumstance, it also will be the final home game for senior Nikola Koprivica. He is the only player graduating off the roster.

Bone said Koprivica's numbers were "not that stellar" his first three seasons in the program, but credited him for working hard to improve his skills during the offseason. Koprivica is fourth on the team with an average of 8.8 points per game and he also shoots 41.7 percent on 3-pointers.

KOPRIVICA HAS WON 85 games in his career, which is just one behind George Hamilton (1945, 1947-49) on the program's list.

"He has provided some leadership," Bone said. "He's been here for a few years and played on some really good teams."

He said Koprivica will start against the Huskies after coming off the bench versus USC. But he was coy on whether that means whether sophomore Abe Lodwick, who scored a conference career-best 11 points against the Trojans, will start or not.

"Without his effort, I don't think we beat USC," Bone said.

He would like to see consistent performances from center DeAngelo Casto, guard Reggie Moore and Thompson. Bone said he cannot think of a game where all three played well together since early in the season.

"It hasn't happened very often," he said.

Bone said he continues to have faith in Thompson even with his struggles. He combined for just 10 points in both games last week. Bone said he continues to encourage Thompson to shoot the ball.

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