FROM EUGENE -- Highlight of the day: eating at a Sonic Drive-In -- there's one in nearby Springfield -- for the first time. Worth it. Also, we have some basketball notes as the Cougars prepare to face Oregon tomorrow. Read on.
Coach Ken Bone said the team had good energy and attentiveness in practice this morning -- they wrapped up at about noon or so -- and considering how well WSU played at Oregon State last night, that makes sense. Bone said winning in conference -- on the road, especially -- makes everything easier, from the bus ride between cities, to waking up the next day, making it to breakfast and getting back into the gym. ... Of course, the Cougars can't enjoy it for long, as they're facing the red-hot Oregon Ducks tomorrow, a team coming off an 82-57 win over Washington. Obviously, the Cougars don't really need much of a reminder that Oregon is capable of those kind of nights. That Dec. 29 matchup at Spokane Arena was evidence enough. Bone and Brock Motum both said Friday that as they watched the UO-UW replay, they were reminded a bit of their own game against the Ducks earlier this season. "They definitely got our attention," Bone said. "They lit us up like they did Washington last night. Before we knew it we were down 10 or 12. You can’t start out a game like that. You just put yourself in a hole. Makes it very very difficult to win when you have that bad of a start or the other team has that good of a start, however you want to look at it." ... That segways nicely into our next note, which is about the way WSU played defense last night. Bone is always cautious to assign too much praise or blame to the way his team defends without watching the film first. The reason for this is because it's too hard to tell without further examination whether the opponents' performance was due to WSU's defense, or its own shortcomings. Last night, Bone said he liked what he saw. "Really pleased with our defense last night. And for 40 minutes. It wasn’t perfect all 40, but it wasn’t like we had a three or four minute lapse. You can’t afford to against a team like that. They’re capable of running off 15 points in three or four minutes, so I’m glad that we stayed locked in all night long." So if it's so hard to tell the difference between a good defensive night and a bad offensive night, what are the indicators of the former? "Active hands, active feet and awareness of what’s going on," Bone said. "And we were pretty good in those three areas last night." ... Bone said the Ducks are obviously dangerous on the perimeter, but have some solid frontcourt players, too, such as Olu Ashaolu and Tony Woods. Add them into the mix with Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler, and the Ducks have a fairly balanced squad. Much of the credit for that goes to coach Dana Altman, who has turned that program around in a hurry. "He’s created opportunities for those guys to score and have scorers’ mentality," Bone said. "They’re good in transition. They’re effective in the quarter court also." ... Bone said D.J. Shelton, who is coming off a career-best game against OSU, will likely get into the game quickly on Saturday. "As guys play better and better you continue to have more and more confidence in putting them in the game. He did a great job last night to where my guess is he’ll get in the game quickly tomorrow afternoon."
We also spoke briefly with Shelton. A partial transcript of that conversation is below.
(On his sporadic playing time) "It’s been real difficult. Some games I play a lot, some games I don’t. I just did a real good job, I feel, of just keeping a good head, a good attitude and a good work ethic. Some of that stuff made me hungrier, just to come out and work harder just to prove to everybody I’m not giving up. I’m still here. Just to show the hard-working attitude to the coaches, kind of let them know I deserve to be out there."
(On Thursday's game) "I can say that’s kind of like a coming out party. I had a few solid games but that might be the best one, showing I can do it. My teammates always have my back, saying I can be good and do a good job. When I have confidence I’m at my best."
(On support from teammates and coaches) "They’ve been definitely supportive, they’ve been in my corner. Some of the games I don’t play, everybody’s talking to me, keeping my head up. The coaches keep my head up, just everybody from redshirts from Royce Woolridge all the way up to Marcus Capers, Abe, Brock, Charlie, all telling me to keep my head up and it’s going to come."
(On what's kept him motivated) "It’s just sometimes it’s like you get the bad attitude and want to give up. It's always, 'I’ve got to do it. I can do it, and it’s not the end of the world and I’ve still got time.' I always remember I’m just a sophomore. I look at it as pretty much paying my dues. I come in and it’s two five-year seniors ahead of me. I try to do my best to just outwork them and try to play as hard as I can."
All for now.