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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cougars hope to turn improvement into victory

PULLMAN – Bill Doba sat down a day after his team lost its third straight game and said precisely what most who watched it felt.

His team played better than it had the weeks before. His team still managed to lose.

“We improved from the Stanford game to the UCLA game,” Doba said Sunday evening. “We’ve just found a way to screw things up at times. We get going and as I’ve said before we’re not playing as a team.

“When we need a couple first downs, we haven’t done it and likewise when we needed to get a stop and get the offense back on the field we haven’t done it. It’s kind of funny.”

The Cougars, having turned a season-opening three-game win streak into a .500 record, now must find ways to turn improved play into wins, a task made all the more difficult as the team’s opponents get stronger. Next up is No. 25 California, a team coming off of two straight losses and seemingly due for a good performance, much like the Cougars were probably due for one on Saturday against UCLA.

On Sunday, Doba spoke about the idea that it’s difficult for teams to play well in back-to-back weeks, perhaps a reason why the Bruins struggled at first in Pullman and the Cougars played so well. But UCLA’s gutsy play down the stretch earned it a win, and now WSU (3-3, 0-3 Pac-10) has to try to play a road game with similar intensity next week – not to mention finding a win in the process.

“We just needed to make a play somewhere. A first down or an interception,” Doba said, dwelling on the near misses of the 44-41 overtime loss. “I think basically it was a credit to them. They played well. And part of it was execution.”

Many of Doba’s comments Sunday were directed to specific areas of concern evolving from the game. Wide receiver Jason Hill, playing at about 85 percent because of a quadriceps bruise, and defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua, coming back from a broken leg, both returned to action Saturday and Doba said both had gotten through the game without re-injury.

Pitoitua ended up playing about 20-30 snaps, far more than anticipated, and Doba suggested the sophomore will have a chance to reclaim his starting job in practice this week. Hill caught eight passes for 65 yards but Doba said the wideout was winded from having not played in two weeks.

Running back Jerome Harrison, fresh off of a new career-best 260 yards, also had a tender shoulder, though Doba said it was nothing to be concerned about.

“He’s probably a little sore from carrying the offense,” he quipped.

The Cougars accepted their loss Saturday night with disappointment and resolve, it appeared. And Doba said he still felt his team was in the same mode a day after.

“There was no complaining,” Doba said. “Nobody had their head down. They ran harder (Sunday) than they’ve ever run after a ball game. They’re frustrated and they’re determined.”

Notes

Kick returner Lorenzo Bursey has a shoulder sprain and is “very doubtful” to play this week, Doba said. The junior college transfer was replaced by Benny Ward in the return game Saturday, but the coach suggested second-string running back DeMaundray Woolridge might be an option there. … Linebacker Brian Hall, primarily a special teams player, also has a shoulder injury, though the specifics and the severity are not yet known. … Doba said the Cougars probably woud have tried for a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation had they been about 7 yards closer. WSU went for a Hail Mary from the UCLA 42-yard line.

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