Though the Washington State basketball team has slogged through a disappointing year, the Cougars can still come away from the 2013-14 season with bragging rights, if not much else.
WSU (9-18, 2-13 Pac-12) beat rival Washington 72-67 in February. On Friday the Cougars can complete a regular-season sweep of the Huskies (15-13, 7-8 Pac-12) for the first time since 2011.
To do so would be a feather in WSU coach Ken Bone’s cap. The fifth-year coach has suffered increasing criticism and athletic director Bill Moos has said he has not yet made a decision on whether Bone will return next season.
A sweep would also give Bone a 4-8 record against his friend and former mentor, UW coach Lorenzo Romar, while coaching at WSU. The two coaches have known each other since college, and when Romar became the head coach at UW in 2002 he brought Bone along as an assistant.
Following that gig Bone got his first Division I coaching job at Portland State, where he led the Vikings an upset win over No. 7 Gonzaga and to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
But that sort of success has proved elusive at WSU, where the Cougars have managed just one 20-win season in Bone’s tenure.
“I think there have been some unfortunate circumstances that have taken place,” Romar said of the Cougars’ struggles. “The situation with Reggie Moore; Reggie Moore was a good basketball player and it ended up not working out. DaVonte Lacy being hurt …”
Moore was dismissed prior to the start of last season for violating team rules.
Coupled with the preseason dismissal this season of Danny Lawhorn it has been two years since the Cougars had a true starting point guard.
Injuries to players like Lacy, Mike Ladd and Faisal Aden have meant that Bone has seemingly always had to put a patchwork lineup on the floor.
“Just some things like that, that have happened over the last several years that make it a little more difficult for anyone’s program to be at the highest level they could be at,” Romar said.
But injuries can’t entirely account for why WSU’s is last in the Pac-12 in scoring by nearly 10 points per game, or why the Cougars lost 67-53 at Oregon last week after leading by seven at the half.
The Cougars suffer from a crippling lack of scorers with only Lacy, D.J. Shelton and Que Johnson posing any sort of offensive threat. Bone has said when those players are given a breather there is virtually no one the Cougars can rely on to match baskets with the other team.
Compounding the problem is the fact Johnson, a freshman who didn’t play organized basketball last season, has appeared to hit a wall of late. He has been taken out of the starting lineup because of defensive concerns and made two of nine shot attempts in last week’s losses at Oregon State and Oregon.
When Bone arrived at WSU he made it a priority to recruit in-state talent, particularly from the Puget Sound region, a once-plentiful spring that still flows, but not necessarily to WSU. In 2010 there were Western Washington products who spent time in the NBA.
Since then Peyton Siva, Isaiah Thomas and Tony Wroten have joined them.
“I think (in-state recruiting) has gone OK,” Bone said. “It’s tough to recruit kids when you’re not having success and it’s tough to recruit kids out of Seattle because there is a great market there and not just Washington and Gonzaga, two other big schools in the state that are recruiting there but other schools, whether it’s UCLA or Louisville or anybody else that’s coming in and competing for the top players out of the Northwest and Seattle.”
California native Klay Thompson was the 11th pick in the 2012 draft after playing for Bone, and the highly-recruited Johnson says WSU’s coaching staff was the primary reason he chose to come to WSU.
Bone added that Seattle produced productive Cougars such as Lacy, Moore – a three-year starter – and incoming freshman Tramaine Isabell, who Bone says he thinks could be a great player.
Romar is quick to point out that his own program has had its ups and downs, and thinks that with some better luck the Cougars could see brighter days.
“I think it’s somewhat cyclical,” he said of UW and WSU’s current struggles. “We went through it for two years in 2007, 2008. We went through it and we came back and for four straight years averaged about 25 wins a (season) and were either tournament champs or league champs. And then this year and last year we’re not near the top. So it’s cyclical I think.”