Bone: Cougars are better than their record

IN A WIDE-RANGING interview, first-year WSU coach Ken Bone said the Cougs are better than their 16-14 record. He also looks at the state of the Cougars' program including its second-half slide, talks defense plus the transition from Bennett Ball towards his system and philosophies, and much more..

The reality is that Washington State finished in last place.

But Bone said Monday that his team is stronger than the one that won just two of its final 11 regular season games.

"No doubt," he said. "We're better than what we've shown."

THERE IS SOME evidence to support his contention that the Cougars (16-14 overall, 6-12 conference), who play Oregon (15-15, 7-11) in the opener of the Pac-10 Tournament on Wednesday (8 p.m. FSN) in Los Angeles, are more capable than what they have shown.

They swept Arizona, which finished with a winning conference record, and played just about every Pac-10 team well for at least a half.

Bone even points out the Cougars' defense -- an area where he often has been criticized following the Dick and Tony Bennett era when the program often was among the top ranked in the NCAA -- has improved. He noted that WSU allowed 75.3 points per game in the first half of conference play, while that number dropped to 66.1 in the final nine games.

Of course, some games were played at a faster tempo, including the first UW game, and the conference opener against the Ducks went into double overtime. But Bone's contention that the Cougars have improved over the course of the year defensively is supported by statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy's Web site. Pomeroy had WSU ranked higher than 200 in adjusted defense for most of the season, but that number decreased to 145th nationally at 99.8, though that was still the worst in the Pac-10.

"I think if we had another nine games, we would be a lot better at that end," Bone said.

ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT ADJUSTMENT from the Bennett era has been an increase in tempo. According to Pomeroy, the Cougars played at the 340th quickest pace in the country in 2008-09 under Bennett. That number increased to 157th this season, fourth highest in the Pac-10.

However, with the bulk of the roster returning -- senior Nikola Koprivica is the only player graduating off the roster -- Bone said he does not foresee a significant increase in tempo. And he said he is not certain whether his system will be fully implemented next season. Why?

Similar to WSU football coach Paul Wulff, and the Bennetts before him in hoops, Bone said he will need to recruit players to his system. In Bone's case, that means hoopsters with better foot speed, in order for his system to function at optimal levels.

BUT BONE ALSO said he was excited to return virtually the same core of players next season. Sophomore guard Klay Thompson, who averaged a team-high 19.6 points per game, was named to the conference's 10-player first team Monday, as reported earlier on CF.C.

"I think it's much deserved," said Bone, adding that he appreciated that his colleagues considered the entire season in making their selection, including Thompson's 43-point game Nov. 28 against San Diego in the Great Alaska Shootout.

Sophomore center DeAngelo Casto, who scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, was named all-defense and honorable mention all conference. Casto led the Pac-10 in blocks this season, averaging 10.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

"He's possibly been our most consistent player our second time through the conference," Bone said.

Guard Reggie Moore also was named to the Pac-10's all-freshman team. He averaged 12.9 points and a team-high 4.1 assists per game.

"He's had to step his game up quite a bit," Bone said. "It probably would've been easier for him to lead a team with a little more experience."

HE SAID HIS team also has been hampered by its poor shooting. WSU shot just 41.5 percent from the field in conference games and hit 29.7 percent of its 3-pointers.

Bone noted that Moore converted just 3 of 23 shots in his last three games and Thompson often "couldn't buy a bucket." Better shooting might have made a difference in the five Pac-10 games the Cougars lost by 10 points or less.

Two of those games were against Oregon, the Cougs' first round opponent on Wednesday. After Saturday's 74-66 loss against the Ducks at MacArthur Court that ended the regular season, Bone is excited to play them again.

"It's kind of nice in some ways," he said. "You've already done a lot of your homework. We're excited to play Oregon again."

The Cougars made just 35.7 percent of their shots in their latest loss and Thompson was 7 of 22 from the field. Bone said he is not sure if Thompson's shooting problems are mechanical or mental at this point.

The Ducks had few problems shooting the ball, converting 50 percent of their attempts against WSU. Bone said his team needs to do a better job of containing guards Malcolm Armstead and Tajuan Porter to be successful.

A WIN AGAINST Oregon would pit the Cougars against top seeded Cal, which won the conference, on Thursday. The Bears swept WSU for a second straight season. Meanwhile, a loss likely would end the Cougars' season.

Bone said he was encouraged his team's practice Monday.

"When they left the gym they were all smiling," he said. "I think the mood is about as good as it gets right now."

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