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Cougar basketball practices to stay sharp during relative lull

Washington State’s basketball team will have high stakes in practice this week.

More so than usual, the Cougars will focus on situational drills involving time and score, and there will be rewards.

Well, perhaps a lack of punishment for the victors would be a better term.

“Reward for getting to watch your teammates run,” as coach Ken Bone put it.

The reason for WSU’s change in practice strategy is to help the team maintain a competitive rhythm in the middle of a stretch in which it plays two games in two weeks.

Last week, the Cougars returned from a trip to the Old Spice Classic at Orlando, Fla., where the team played three games in four days. This week, finals week at WSU, the players are focusing on passing their classes until they host Pepperdine on Sunday.

“We try not to play during Finals Week and even having Pepperdine play us Sunday was better than playing on Saturday,” Bone said. “Because right after finals, guys are just fatigued and worn out from all the academic stress. So that’s a huge reason why it’s spread out.”

With all that time off, Bone is wary of the potential effects of idleness on his players. Particularly with shortened practices and days off for finals, the Cougars are trying to make their time together as competitive as possible.

It worked last season, when the Cougars had a similar stretch of two games in two weeks. WSU beat Buffalo 65-54 in Seattle, and spanked Idaho State 74-39 in Kennewick.

“The challenges are that you get into a competitive mode competing against other teams and then all of a sudden you kind of lose that rhythm and you lose that competitive edge that you had,” Bone said. “Then we try to build it back up in preparation for the next game.”

Cougars keep shooting

If the Cougars are going to live and die by the 3-pointer this season, they may need a better health plan. Of WSU’s 445 shots this season, 211 have been from behind the arc, even though the Cougars are hitting just 31.8 percent of those shots.

WSU has broken 40 percent in one game, its 69-54 victory over Purdue. In that game, the team attempted 20 3-pointers, its lowest mark of the season.

Bone isn’t ready to tell his team to reel it in quite yet.

“That’s a double-edged sword, because I think we need to be able to shoot the 3 well, and to shoot it well you’ve got to create confidence,” Bone said. “To create confidence, you’ve got to give them the green light to shoot. But, doggone it, if you’re not making shots at some point you’ve got to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to look for different opportunities.’ ”

WSU has also struggled to distribute the ball, ranking last in the Pac-12 and 275th in the country with 11.4 assists per game.

WSU has had success when it drives to the basket, taking advantage of a greater emphasis among officials on defensive hand-checking and new rules that make it harder to draw a charge.