PULLMAN – Washington State was held to its second-lowest point total of the season Saturday against USC, playing without second-leading scorer and assist leader Isaac Bonton.
The Cougars may have to find alternative ways of manufacturing offense Wednesday night against Cal, but they expect to have Bonton back in the fold for the last home game of the regular season, on Sunday against Stanford, and for final road games at Washington, Arizona and Arizona State.
Bonton, who injured his hip in the overtime period of Thursday’s 86-83 loss at UCLA, is “doubtful” for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against Cal, but coach Kyle Smith said he’s “hopeful” the junior can return by Sunday, when Washington State hosts Stanford at 5 p.m.
The diagnosis on Bonton is generally positive, considering Smith told Matt Chazanow on the postgame radio show Saturday he wasn’t sure his point guard would be available “the rest of the way” before retracting his statement and indicating he wasn’t sure how long Bonton would be sidelined.
“I don’t know much, he’s feeling better,” Smith said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “He’s rehabbing it and he saw the doctors. I think questionable probably for tomorrow, hopeful for Sunday.”
Smith didn’t know the exact nature of Bonton’s injury, just that it “sounds like it was something that’s going to be OK to play and get back to 100 percent, hopefully. But we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s been easy to distinguish the difference in offensive production when Bonton’s on the floor opposed to off it.
The Cougars exceeded 80 points in their OT loss to UCLA – during which Bonton missed a deep, 3-point heave at the buzzer to force the extra period – and had 69 by the end of regulation. By contrast, WSU needed 30 points in the second half of a loss to USC just to reach the 50-point barrier.
In Pac-12 games only, Bonton’s 16.6 points per game are tied for fifth best in the conference while his 5.0 assists per game are third.
“It changes considerably,” Smith said of WSU’s offense without Bonton. “Part of it is just trying to get Marvin (Cannon) and Tony (Miller) to get the rust off, because I’m kind of counting on those guys. Tony, he finds way to score out there and Marvin was really coming on before his injury. So I think we need those guys a little bit.
Bonton’s absence loomed large against USC, but the Cougars didn’t help themselves from 3-point range, making just 4 of 28, including 22 consecutive misses.
“Even in that second half, we cut that thing to 10,” Smith said. “We’re playing Ryan (Rapp) a little bit. He finds guys. We had a good group out there that was getting some good looks. Daron (Henson) got four naked looks. I’ll take that every time. He missed two free throws, too. So that was uncharacteristic of him.”
Nonetheless, Bonton’s presence alone may have been enough to flip the Cougars’ assist-to-turnover ratio – six assists and 11 turnovers against the Trojans – and there’s a good chance it would’ve helped them in the scoring column on a night that saw WSU players not named CJ Elleby go 11 of 45 from the field.
“We have to put a couple wrinkles in just because we’re playing a little differently, for sure,” Smith said.
Smith also suggested Thursday’s game, which would’ve given WSU its first season sweep of UCLA since the 1930s, took a heavy emotional toll on the Cougars.
“I think our guys took it a little harder than I even knew,” Smith said. “The look on our faces at halftime, we were playing pretty well. Then the end of that half, we put them at the line and it felt like, your emotional tank on the road can run low.”
Even if Bonton isn’t in the mix Wednesday evening, the Cougars should feel confident about their chances to pick up win No. 15. It should be the last game they’re favored to win, at least until the Pac-12 Tournament, and KenPom.com gives WSU a win probability of 73%. After that, the website gives the Cougars just a 37% chance to beat Stanford at home, followed by a 21% chance to win at UW, 8% at Arizona and 20% at ASU.
The Golden Bears take a 0-7 road record to Beasley Coliseum and have dropped their last four games.
“We came out of UCLA with the mindset that we need to play better on the road and we need to get one,” Smith said. “We came close and I’m sure (Cal) coach (Mark) Fox is telling his guys the same thing. I think they’re a really improved team from earlier this season.”
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