Cougars prepare for crucial week in Oregon

KEN BONE DID not understate the importance of this week. The Cougars travel to the Oregon schools this week to conclude conference play and nothing short of a sweep will ensure that they avoid the play-in game in the Pac-10 Tournament.

"Everyone wants to stay away from that game," Bone said during his Tuesday news conference. "If there's any way you can prevent that Wednesday night game, it helps."

Traditionally, the bottom four teams in the conference play games on the opening night of the tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But USC athletic director Mike Garrett imposed sanctions on his basketball program, which included a postseason ban this season. That means only the bottom two teams in the conference standings will play the first night.

The winner of that game would then need three more victories to secure a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the Pac-10 Tournament is Washington State's only possible way to advance to the Big Dance. But Bone said he also wants to avoid presenting an "emergency" situation where his team feels that if they do not win their final two regular-season games, the year is over.

WSU (16-12 overall, 6-10 conference) has played well in recent years in the Willamette Valley. The Cougars have won their last three games at Oregon State (13-15, 7-9) and beat the Beavers 65-60 on Jan. 2 at Friel Court. They play that game at 7 p.m. Thursday and face Oregon at 5 p.m. Saturday. Neither game is televised.

OSU RANKS 49TH nationally in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defense rankings. WSU is one of the few teams to have shot well against the Beavers as it hit 51.2 percent of its field goals in the first meeting.

Bone noted the presence of 6-foot-5 senior Seth Tarver who averages 10.7 points per game, second on OSU behind guard Calvin Haynes (13.1). But he said Tarver excels on the defensive end with his athleticism and long arms.

"With Seth Tarver up there at the top in the 1-3-1 (zone), he is a great presence," Bone said.

Bone said the Beavers play well in their standard defensive set, but they also can be successful with other defensive sets.

"It's not like the 1-3-1 is super, super good and the other defenses aren't good," he said. "Even times where they've gone man-to-man, they've done well. They're a good defensive team."

BONE SAID IT is imperative that his team moves the ball well on offense and avoids turnovers.

That means better play from two of his top offensive options -- guard Reggie Moore and wing Klay Thompson. The duo combined to convert 3 of 22 field-goal attempts and turned the ball over nine times in a 59-52 loss Saturday against Washington.

Thompson scored 28 points in a Feb. 13 loss at California, but has not scored in double figures during the last three games. Bone said he has talked with Thompson about not forcing shots, but added that it is important to allow him freedom because the team lacks scorers.

Moore also has been slowed since scoring at least 19 points in five January games. Bone thinks that is a result of teams becoming increasingly familiar and focusing more attention on him.

ONE PLAYER WHO seems to be improving is sophomore center DeAngelo Casto, who scored 19 points against the Huskies. He has scored in double figures in his last six Pac-10 games.

Bone said Casto has been more active, but "we've obviously tried to get the ball to him a little more," he said. "I think DeAngelo is just concentrating a little more."

He said assistant coach Ben Johnson has worked hard with Casto and the Cougars' other post players on catching the ball and finishing.

While WSU played well on offense in its first game against OSU, Beavers coach Craig Robinson also said his team was surprised to see the Cougars play zone frequently. OSU shot just 36.5 percent from the field in that game. Despite that, Bone said he expects his team "to go in there and play man-to-man defense."

WSU THEN WRAPS UP conference play against Oregon (14-14, 6-10) in the final game at McArthur Court. The Ducks won the first game between the schools, 91-89, in double overtime. But the Cougars appeared to have the game won on a finger roll by Casto with three-tenths of a second remaining until a technical foul was assessed on the Cougars' bench. Tajuan Porter then hit a pair of free throws to send the game into another overtime.

"I thought about it 10 minutes ago, but I haven't thought about it since then," Bone said jokingly. "It's unfortunate the way that game ended."

He said his team has "moved on." The Ducks pulled off a pair of upsets at UCLA and USC last week.

"We know we're playing a tough Oregon team," Bone said. "They're playing as well right now as we have in awhile."

He also expects a difficult atmosphere at McArthur Court, but said he is excited to play there.

"It's just a great basketball venue," Bone said. "You walk in there and feel like you're playing in the '40s or '50s, which is a cool feeling. It's a special place."

Perhaps even more so if WSU wins.

"This season has been really interesting in the Pac-10," Bone said. "Most anyone has been able to beat anyone on any given night. I think our kids understand if we play well for 40 minutes, we give ourselves a shot against anyone in the league."

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