LAS VEGAS – Ken Bone’s finest hour lasted a week. Normally, that sounds like real mileage.
In college basketball, it’s running on empty.
And empty was the feeling Bone and the Washington State Cougars carried out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena at the Pac-12 tournament, their season over after a 64-62 loss to rival Washington.
No contrived epilogues this year, those consolation pageants with even less relevance than the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, decaf or the Bravo channel.
This has been the sad arc of Cougar basketball: from the shrug-inducing filler that is the NIT to the best-of-three silliness of the CBI to … what?
Pretty harsh. The Cougars undeniably had a pulse this season. They even found one Wednesday night.
After flat-lining through most of the game.
It was probably too much to extrapolate even a modest postseason run merely off the happy high of those two beatdowns of Los Angelenos last weekend.
Still, there should have been at least a little leftover siccum in the tank at the game’s onset. The Cougs didn’t appear interested in doing much more than playing H-O-R-S-E with the Huskies, and quickly fell into staving-off-the-E mode.
Finally came the inevitable digging in on defense, the shower of 3-pointers and the heated, inspired Wazzu comeback to tie the game after the Huskies had led by 19 points.
Why it took a clear underdog so long to find that desperation at this stage of the season is inexplicable, not unlike brief moments of panic and brain-freeze that cost them earlier.
“It’s happened quite a bit this year,” Bone acknowledged. “I think the really good teams around the country win those games. This year we were not a really good team.”
One loss short of 20, that seems a generous assessment.
Sadly, the career of their one really good player, Brock Motum, ended with a whimper and not a bang. With the score tied, he tripped over his own feet and out of the play in a possession the Cougs eventually turned over, and then badly missed a lean-in 3-pointer over 6-foot-2 Andrew Andrews at the end. Motum thought the contact – which he created – should have put him at the foul line.
“But the refs didn’t call it,” he said, “or didn’t see it.”
After what the announced audience of 8,566 that hung around for the late show saw, they could only come away with one conclusion: This was very much the last-place team in the Pac-12.
Though that was revealed creatively. For 32 minutes it was Wazzu, and for last eight it was the Huskies, Desmond Simmons’ game-winning lay-up notwithstanding.
So the Cougars go back to the drawing board. But whose drawing board?
Bone has been fencing questions about his security for the better part of a month now, and had to again.
“You know what?” he said. “I’m not too concerned. I’m just not too concerned about that.
“I think we’ve done a good job. Decisions will be made, whether it’s this year, next year or the following year. It’s out of my control. I’m not going to worry about things out of my control. I’m just going to do the best I can.”
But certainly WSU athletic director Bill Moos should worry about it.
Aside from some notable strides in what people love to call “character issues,” there has been no growth in this program in Bone’s four years. Those postseason consolation prizes were mostly the residue of nothing-burger non-conference schedules. Bone’s teams are 26-46 in the Pac-12.
This team took two big injury hits – to Mike Ladd at midseason, and DaVonte Lacy at the end – though the loss Bone kept dredging up all season was booting point guard Reggie Moore before the season. But, frankly, it shouldn’t have taken four months to recover, and Moore’s reliability had been a question long enough that a better Plan B should have been in the program already.
Klay Thompson and Motum blossomed into fine players on Bone’s watch, but the talent he’s lured to campus has been, well, OK at best. He thinks he has difference makers in the wings; he’s probably losing a bigger one.
But mostly there is no buzz to the program. Those wild statement victories during the last homestand didn’t put 9,000 people in the seats combined. Attendance has fallen off 35 percent over his four years.
This is the very thing that cost Paul Wulff his job coaching football, and Moos is very much a buzz kind of guy. Of course, replacing Wulff and kickstarting football facilities has eaten much of Moos’ discretionary income, and Bone has a contract that still has three years and $2.5 million on the meter.
That was a hell of deal he wrangled out of Moos’ predecessor. In fact, that may actually turn out to be Ken Bone’s finest hour.
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