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Recapping WSU’s weekend


COUGARS

We have a couple of stories for you, and a couple of notes as well. It’s Sunday night, you’re probably tired after the long holiday weekend, so let’s get right to it. Read on.



 ••••••••••

• Let’s start with some news. Another furlough week has been mandated for every employee in The Spokesman-Review’s newsroom, and the week of unpaid time off has to taken by the end of March. Because basketball has a tendency to eat hours after the Pac-10 season begins, I will be taking my time in December. The first of those days will occur this week. With that as the backdrop, hopefully you’ll understand when there are no posts tomorrow relating to the Cougars on SportsLink. As I am taking two furlough days this week, I can only work 24 total hours. So there will be nothing Monday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Hopefully, nothing earth-shattering will happen in the Cougar universe those days. … I had a chance to talk with men’s basketball coach Ken Bone today as he and the Cougars were en route from Alaska to Pullman. We put together a follow story on WSU’s Great Alaska Shootout championship and Klay Thompson’s MOP performance. That story awaits you below. … I also had a chance to talk with Paul Wulff on the day after the Apple Cup defeat. Wulff spoke about that game only – the season recap will have to wait until later in the week. But the preparation for next season is already underway, as three coaches left from Seattle today to hit the road recruiting. Others will be out this week, returning to Pullman later this week when WSU hosts a bunch of recruits, most of whom have already committed – Connor Halliday isn’t one of them; the Ferris quarterback has another commitment in the Tacoma Dome. … I mentioned to Wulff I saw Toby Turpin on the sidelines at the Apple Cup and the coach said Turpin will be reinstated in time for the workouts that start early next month. Wulff also said Kevin Norrell seems to be on track and will probably be rejoining the team the same time. … As I mentioned on here before, don’t be surprised if Alex Hoffman-Ellis plays outside next year. He came off the edge some Saturday and recorded his first career sack. Wulff said he may be moved there next year, but reiterated nothing has been finalized yet. All he knows is there will be a “lot more parts to work with” as next season unfolds. … Now on to the stories. Hear is the basketball follow …

•••

PULLMAN – Ken Bone and the Washington State Cougars left for Alaska early last week with a 3-0 record and some questions.

They returned home Sunday with some answers and some hardware.

The Cougars raised their nonconference record to 6-0 by sweeping past host Alaska-Anchorage, Nicholls State and the University of San Diego, winning the Great Alaska Shootout for the first time.

And sophomore guard Klay Thompson, who scored 89 points in the tournament’s three games, including a tourney-record 43 in Saturday’s 93-56 championship-game victory over USD, also had to pack the Most Outstanding Player trophy.

WSU’s first-year men’s basketball coach Ken Bone was looking forward to the trip last week not only for the competition it would provide, but for the chance he would have to learn more about his team.

“I learned that, well it’s still early in the season but I think our group of kids get along well together,” said Bone by phone while the teams changed planes in Seattle. “They have fun, on and off the court. And yet, when it was time to compete, in a championship game, they brought it. There was no messing around, from the tip-off on, they were locked in mentally and did a great job.

“San Diego was the best team we’ve played so far, even though the score doesn’t indicate it. … For our guys to watch them beat Oklahoma, watch them beat Houston, then come out and do what they did, it was pretty impressive.”

Most impressive was Thompson, the 6-foot-6 wing who hit 16 of 24 shots, including 8 of 13 from beyond the arc to break the tournament single-game scoring record of 41 set by Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1993.

“He just lit it up,” Bone said. “He was outstanding. When he had a good look at the hoop, he shot it well. When he didn’t have a good look at the hoop, he shot it well.”

Thompson’s total was the third-best in school history, tying Guy Williams’ output against Idaho State in 1983. Only Brian Quinnett has scored more for WSU in a game, getting 44 against USC in 1989 and 45 against Loyola-Marymount in 1986.

Thompson was joined on the all-tournament team by freshman point guard Reggie Moore, who had 16 points and five assists in the final, and sophomore post DeAngelo Casto, who Bone praised for his unselfish play.

“Here’s a guy whose proven to be a good post player and had a double-double the game before,” Bone said of Casto’s off- and on-ball screens, “and yet he was willing to give up part of his game to help us win and to continue to help Klay get points. I thought it was a pretty unselfish act.”

Bone and his staff taught this Cougar team one more thing this weekend.

“I think what they really learned is, if there is snow around, our coaching staff is ready to have a snowball fight against them,” Bone said. “We battled them and beat them, no matter what they say.”

Wednesday the Cougars will bus up U.S. 195 for the annual battle against soon-to-be ranked Gonzaga, which won the Maui Invitational last week. And Bone feels he’ll take a more-competitive team into McCarthey Athletic Center than he would have a week ago.

“It was a great week, we had a little fun and it worked out well,” he said. “We got better. That’s the bottom line, we got a little better.

“I don’t know if we’re good enough to compete with the Zags, but we’re getting better.”

•••

• Here is the football follow …

PULLMAN – As was the case for much of the Washington State University football season, the Cougars missed their opportunities last Saturday against Washington in the Apple Cup.

Well maybe missed isn’t the right word. Dropped might be better.

“I think we dropped eight or nine balls that were huge,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff in his last Sunday press conference of the 1-11 season.

“It didn’t allow us to score points, it didn’t allow us to get first downs, to keep the chains moving,” Wulff said before struggling for an explanation. “I don’t know. We hadn’t dropped that many. I don’t know if it’s nerves or what was the case.”

The result was the Cougars were shut out for the first time this season, and it came at the hands of a Washington team that was yielding 31 points a game. The Huskies came into the 102nd Apple Cup with the Pac-10’s second-worst defense, statistically, ahead of only WSU.

But both defenses earned Wulff’s praise.

“You’ve got to give Washington some credit,” Wulff said of the Huskies, 4-7 overall, 3-5 in Pac-10 play with a home game left vs. Cal. “They lined up and they got after us pretty good there.”

And he wanted to do the same for the Cougar defense, which used just three substitutes all game.

“Our defense played pretty darn good,” Wulff said. “We did some great things on defense, got a little worn down in the fourth quarter, a lot like we did the week before.”

The Huskies rushed for a season-high 265 yards, 94 of those, also a season-best, from quarterback Jake Locker, which played a part in the WSU defense wearing out.

But the Cougar offense’s inability to run the ball – 47 yards on 28 carries – also played a big part.

“We intentionally tried to slow the game down,” Wulff said. “When you only have three d-linemen that can truly function, that are healthy, we had to shorten the game. … We had to manage the clock. It’s not what we want to do, ideally, but it gave us the best chance to keep our defense fresh.

“If we had converted on offense, the plan would have worked very well. We just didn’t convert.”

The Cougars didn’t have many chances to win in a 0-9 Pac-10 season, falling behind after the first quarter by an average of more than two touchdowns in conference games.

Wulff is waiting until his player meetings are finished to rehash the season, but once again Sunday he held out hope for the future.

“There’s a lot of potential,” he said. “We just need to see how it all unfolds.”

•••

• And here is the look back …

Washington 30, WSU 0

• High point of the game

In the Cougars’ first 11 games, only once did an opponent fail to score on its first possession. That came against Arizona State, when the Sun Devils killed a drive with a fumble. Saturday, the Cougars earned the stop, albeit helped by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on UW. Still, after five plays, the Huskies had to punt from their 32. That, combined with another UW 15-yard penalty on the return, gave WSU its second-best starting field position of the day, its 42-yard line.

• Low point of the game

That came five plays and two first downs later. Seemingly poised to lead for the first time this season – WSU won the SMU game on the last play of overtime – the Cougars pulled out a trick play they’ve been practicing for weeks. It worked too, as Gino Simone broke free inside the 5-yard line. The problem was Kevin Lopina’s throw was a bit long, Simone’s somewhat awkward attempt to catch it failed and the Huskies had avoided ignominy.

• A pat on the back

The four seniors who played almost every down – linebacker Andy Mattingly and safety Xavier Hicks on defense along with center Kenny Alfred and running back Dwight Tardy on offense – left all they had on the Husky Stadium turf. Then they dutifully answered questions about the game, about their teammates and about their senior season, none of which must have been easy. The four, along with the 10 or so others moving on, have suffered through a coaching change, four bowl-less years and two seasons in which the Cougars won a total of three games.

• Needs fixing

This is a category better covered with an entire story, not 50 or so words. Just one item to share: When asked in the hallway after the game when spring practice starts, one of the WSU assistant coaches answered “tomorrow.” All that needs fixing will be attended to immediately.

• Three unanswered questions

• Did the Cougars improve this season? It’s hard to tell. The epidemic of injuries, along with a few suspensions, robbed WSU of playmakers and depth. The results on Saturdays were not that much better – the Cougars lone win this year did come against a 7-5 SMU team that is probably headed to a bowl – but the effort was – not only during games but practices as well. That could be considered a major improvement.

• Will there be changes made? Coach Paul Wulff will be back next year, according to athletic director Jim Sterk, and there is no reason to doubt Sterk. And, if Wulff has his way, at this point at least, so will all the assistant coaches. Wulff isn’t the type of coach who makes changes just to appease someone. If there is a change, it’s because he believes it’s needed to make the team better.

• How much pressure will there be next season? If you listened carefully to what Wulff said after the game, you realize he’s promising major improvement in 2010. Such promises have to be kept. And that equates to pressure on the staff, the players and the administration.

•••••

• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back Tuesday. Until then …


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