Despite losing six out of their last seven games and seven out of nine overall in Pac-12 play, the WSU Cougars remain focused on one goal – finishing strong.
Such a sentiment may seem old by now amid a 2-9 start to conference play – the team’s worst in a decade after the 2003 team lost 14 straight to open Pac-10 play – but the team is motivated to finish the season with conviction, Head Coach Ken Bone said.
Bone told the media Tuesday that the team, currently on a four-game losing skid, is still optimistic about its chances in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament at season’s end in March. The goal is to prepare for the tournament, “and then just go for it,” he said.
“I think it is wide open,” Bone said, speaking in regard to the Pac-12. “There’ve been a lot of teams that have looked really, really good and then they get beat by a team you wouldn’t expect them to get beat by. There’s just a lot of parity in the conference.”
The Cougars will look to double-down on one of their lone wins in conference play, as they play host to Oregon State (12-12) tonight at 7 p.m. in Beasley Coliseum. The Cougars earned their only conference road win against Oregon State 71-68 in Corvallis, Ore. on Jan. 26.
In that game, seniors Mike Ladd and Brock Motum led the team in scoring with 43 combined points, as Ladd scored a career-high 23 points in the matchup.
Bone talked about the aspect of familiarity on Tuesday, and said, “They’re good and we respect them, but we had success against them, so that’s a confidence builder.”
Don’t expect the Beavers to roll over, though. Like the Cougars, the Beavers are privy to close contests, as all but one of their nine conference losses have been within 10 points.
Led by juniors Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier, who average a combined 30 points per game, the Beavers force teams to play an up-tempo game, Bone said.
“They’ve been very good offensively all year long,” he said. “They’ve been able to get teams to play their style, which is really up-tempo. They throw a lot of different defenses at you and they’ve been able to get teams to play fast.”
Despite the outcome, Bone and the Cougars acknowledge a disappointing season and the criticism that has come with it.
“You know I’m not used to it,” Bone said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be associated with a lot of really good teams. But some of it’s warranted – I need to do a better job.”
“When you lose, there’s criticism. It doesn’t matter whether you have injuries, it doesn’t matter whether if you’ve been close in games and competed well, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve kicked off your point guard – it doesn’t make a difference,” he continued, summing up a season fallen by the wayside. “At the end of the day, you’re expected to win, and in league (play) we’re 2-9.”
There’s no more sugar-coating left. Bone knows his team needs to improve, and soon. A season sweep of the Beavers would be a step in the right direction for this Cougar squad, because like Bone said, the goal is to finish strong.
"For me, I just keep doing the best I can. I’m not sure what else to do except try to keep the troops rallied and working hard,” he said. “You’ve got to turn the page and keep going. Just like in life, you gotta keep going.”
The 7 p.m. tip-off will air on the Pac-12 Network.