PULLMAN – While assessing the first half of Washington State’s basketball season, the truth of an old adage used by coach Ken Bone was reaffirmed before he could even get the words out of his mouth.
“Can’t look back,” Bone said Tuesday. “Or you …”
He couldn’t finish the thought before the next question came through the telephone, moving right on to the next one.
And so the comparison to the first half of Washington State’s Pac-12 schedule seems obvious.
The Cougars are 11-10 and 3-6 in conference play as they prepare to host the last-place USC Trojans (6-16, 1-8) at 7:05 tonight at Beasley Coliseum, somewhere WSU has yet to lose this season but has played only twice in Pac-12 play.
Bone discusses WSU’s first-half performance and views it from two contrasting perspectives.
First, he said, there are the three wins, each of them – Oregon State (14-7), Stanford (15-6), California (17-5) – against a team he considers to be a quality opponent. In those games, the Cougars’ offense was in rhythm, their zone defense was successful and they held their own on the glass.
But on the other hand, Bone laments, “a couple disappointing losses.”
He didn’t specify, but it isn’t hard to guess. WSU’s 62-60 overtime loss to Utah in early January was labeled by some as a gimme, but the Cougars missed more than half their free throws and couldn’t get stops down the stretch.
And then there was Saturday, when the Cougars – playing without guard Faisal Aden, whose season was ended by a torn ACL – fell 71-67 at Arizona State, which entered that game with a 6-14 record.
WSU has lost each of its five conference road games. It won in impressive fashion in both of its Pac-12 games at Beasley – where the Cougars play five of their final nine games.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with where we’re at,” junior forward Brock Motum said. “We’ve lost a few close games to some teams that maybe don’t have a better record than us, and we think we should have beaten. But also, we’ve beaten teams with a lot better record than us.
“I think this conference is still wide open and we’ve shown we can beat the best team but we’ve also shown that on a bad day we can lose to some of the lower teams. We just need to find our stride and show some consistency toward the end of the season.”
That starts on the defensive end. Washington State was blistered by 3-pointers in its losses at Arizona and ASU last week. The same happened in losses to Oregon and Colorado, too. And it’s part of why WSU is eighth in the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 42.5 percent. The Cougars are also eighth in 3-point field-goal defense.
Without Aden’s offensive presence, it will be even more crucial for WSU to fuel its offense by getting stops.
“I thought defense has been a good thing for our team for the past year,” said Motum, who is third in the conference in scoring at 16.4 points per game. “Last year was really good. Our zone was really effective last year toward the end. I think we just need to find that niche on defense that we can just go to when we really need a stop. That’s the main thing we need to focus on.”
“I don’t have an answer for that,” Motum said. “We just need a consistent effort on defense to try and get stops rather than let other factors dictate how we play on defense. … Our offense is going to come. We just need to focus on defense.”
And on what lies ahead.
“It’s not what we had hoped for, but that’s where we’re at,” Bone said. “We need to just keep moving forward, get on to the next game at USC and try to build upon that.”