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Cougars happy to be playing; trip no big deal

With WSU students gone on break, first-round home game impractical

PULLMAN – This town is so empty during Washington State’s spring break that Cougars guard Marcus Capers’ mind gets to wandering.

“I was thinking about driving on the wrong side of the road, something like that,” the senior joked Tuesday. “Just to say I did it.”

Maybe it’s best, then, that the Cougars won’t be here for a couple days. Instead, they traveled Monday night to the University of San Francisco, their first-round opponent at 7 p.m. today in the College Basketball Invitational.

Of course, Capers isn’t alone in admitting that this isn’t the tournament in which he’d prefer to be playing. Like every other team in the country, WSU (15-16) began the season with the goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. Or at least the NIT.

But the third-tier CBI, which began in 2008, at least gives the Cougars an opportunity to keep playing – something that was important to coach Ken Bone. And after all, he said, there are enough high-profile teams participating in the tournament this year that his team should be able to find the motivation necessary to continue their season.

“We’re in a tournament we’ve never been in before, but there’s some good teams in it,” Bone said. “Oregon State’s in it out of our conference, Pittsburgh from the Big East, Butler who was in the last two Final Fours. So I think that gives it some credibility, and it gives us something to shoot for to try to do as well as we can in this tournament.”

“I think it gives some of the younger guys more experience, and it’s (against) a different conference so it’s a different style of play,” junior forward Brock Motum said. “So just a chance to play a different team and a chance to get a few other guys some more games under their belt. Hopefully, we can win it.”

San Francisco (20-13) finished fifth in the West Coast Conference, its season highlighted by a Feb. 18 win at home over Gonzaga. The Dons play similar to Oregon State, Bone said, in that they trap frequently in the half-court out of different defensive looks.

USF sets its offense with dribble drives, and features a balanced attack with four players who average double figures in scoring. Angelo Caloiaro, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, leads USF with 14.2 points per game.

“They like to get up and down the floor and create havoc on the defensive end,” Bone said of the Dons, who rank 32nd in the nation in scoring at 75.4 points per game.

WSU indicated interest in hosting a first-round CBI game, but Bone said the fact that students are gone for spring break likely made Pullman a less-than-ideal location. But if the Cougars beat USF, it’s possible they could host a second-round game against the winner of Wyoming vs. North Dakota State. A tournament official said Sunday that second-round sites won’t be determined until first-round games are completed.

The Cougars are the only team in the field with a sub-.500 record, but that hasn’t meant bad things for Pac-12 teams in the past. Oregon State entered the tournament in 2009 with a 13-17 record and won the championship. Oregon won it last year with a 16-17 record heading in. Both years, each team was the only participant with a losing record.

“A couple teams that feel like they should have made the NIT will be trying to prove a point, just like the teams in the NIT that feel like they should have made the (NCAA) tournament,” Capers said. “That’s pretty much what you want. It’s not like there’s any bad teams in any of the tournaments.”

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