SEATTLE – Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone knows the area around Seattle’s KeyArena well.
His father, Walt, coached for years at the now-closed Queen Anne High, less than 10 blocks north of the Key.
So when the Cougars travel across the state each year for the Cougar Hardwood Classic, Bone feels an affinity for the area and the building.
“This is where I grew up,” he said Wednesday as the Cougars prepared for this season’s version of the Hardwood Classic, tonight against Pepperdine.
“So many of my basketball memories as a kid were right here, watching the high school state tournament, playing in the state tournament, watching Sonic games, coming to a couple Seattle Totem hockey games,” he said. “This is the basketball ’hood for Ken Bone. I’m glad they still have the arena and it’s fun to come back here and bring our team to play.”
The Cougars have made the classic their ’hood as well, winning the first six versions of the Seattle game and drawing large, enthusiastic crowds for the game.
Tonight should feature the same, with the added attraction of new football coach Mike Leach being introduced at halftime.
“It’s a pretty cool experience,” said senior guard Marcus Capers, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Wednesday. “It’s just a different atmosphere than us playing in Pullman.
“Me being older now and seeing, once you get away from Pullman, you see how much the older (alumni) appreciate it. They just bring a whole lot of love anytime we play in Seattle. There are a lot of Cougs here.”
The Waves (6-4) are coming off their best defensive performance in almost 50 years. They held Montana State to 28.3 percent shooting Sunday in a 59-36 home win, the fewest points Pepperdine has given up since 1952.
Pepperdine, under former assistant and now first-year head coach Marty Wilson, has given up just 59.8 points a game in a nonconference schedule that’s included two Pac-12 schools. The Waves split those, winning 66-60 at Arizona State and losing 62-39 at UCLA.
“They have some nice shooters and the two big kids, their leading scorers, are very efficient in the paint,” Bone said of the Waves. “It should be a heck of a game.”
Seniors Taylor Darby, 6-foot-8, and Corbin Moore, 6-10, combine for 22.2 points and 14 rebounds a game.
Tonight is WSU’s last nonconference game before opening Pac-12 play in the Spokane Arena next Thursday vs. Oregon. The Cougars are 7-4, having won their last five.
“You always want to head into conference with a lot of confidence, and I feel as of late we have that,” Capers said. “Everyone’s healthy and we’re jelling together before conference play like we should.”
WSU’s defense has been solid recently. In the Cougars’ last five games, opponents have shot just 32.6 percent.
But it’s not enough for Capers.
“All we can do is get better,” he said. “But that’s good. It’s always good to have a chip on your shoulder heading into conference play.”