PULLMAN – A win over California today would be an insignificant bullet point on Washington State’s NCAA tournament resume, which could not render a compelling candidacy through any amount of revising, rewriting or embellishing.
The Cougars (9-14, 2-9 Pac-12) have long since passed consideration for “Cinderella” status and are closing in on Ugly Duckling territory.
But with seven games left in the regular season and at least one Pac-12 tournament game on the horizon, the Cougars are manufacturing motivation any way they can.
“Well when you’re in sports if you’re struggling you’re still trying to compete and you’re still trying to win,” coach Ken Bone said on Tuesday. “So, to me, that’s the carrot and it showed up yesterday in practice.”
WSU can measure its progress against a Cal team that it lost to, 76-55, earlier this season. The Cougars effectively confused the Golden Bears in the first half of that game by using a 1-1-3 zone defense. But after leading by just one point at the break, Cal (16-8, 6-4) nearly doubled WSU’s production in the second half.
Statistically speaking neither Cal nor Stanford, which visits WSU on Saturday, stand out in any particular area. But both have proven to be among the conference’s most dangerous teams because of balance and deft coaching.
“They’ve both proven they’re really good at almost everything,” Bone said. “When I look at Stanford and Cal I think of balance. They have good guard play, they are experienced, and they have bigs that get the job done, too.”
The Golden Bears come to Pullman having lost four of their past five games. The lone win came against No. 1 Arizona.
The Cougars dropped games on the road against Colorado and Utah last week, seemingly losing any spark gained from their win over Washington and the return of DaVonte Lacy to the lineup.
“Sometimes from the outside you think, ‘what’s the incentive, what are you guys even doing practicing,’ maybe,” Bone said. “But you come to one of our practices and see the effort that the guys are giving, they want to get better as a team, and we want to peak at the end of the year like everybody and hope for the best.”