That is exactly what happened during Bone’s first-year with the Cougars. WSU finished 16-15 overall and 6-12 in conference play in 2009-10. Bone’s squad was invited to play in the CBI Tournament, which is considered less prestigious than last year’s NIT invite, but declined. The Cougars had just a 2-7 record in the second half of conference play that season.
“Our team was worn out and we were not playing very good basketball the last month,” said Bone, adding that WSU students also were on spring break at that time. “It just didn’t look like it fit the situation at that time.”
Bone added that he felt both Oregon schools improved the following season after playing several games in the CBI.
But even without second-leading scorer, senior guard Faisal Aden (14.5 points per game), who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Arizona, Bone feels his team is playing its best right now. The Cougars (13-12 overall, 5-8 conference) split last week’s trip against the Oregon schools.
Some of that is related to the emergence of junior guard Mike Ladd. The Fresno State transfer has missed 10 games this season because of injuries to his right thumb and Bone recently speculated that he might not play again this season. Instead, Ladd has become one of the first players off the bench. He scored 13 points in Saturday’s 78-69 loss at Oregon.
“I thought he handled it really well,” said Bone, adding that he cannot recall another player who has become a team captain before playing a game with the program. “He continued to be engaged in every practice, every film session.”
Bone said when Ladd elected to leave Fresno State in 2010, he was approached by junior guard Reggie Moore about whether WSU would have any interest in him. After reviewing game tape, Bone said he pursued Ladd. Bone also recruited Ladd as a senior out of Rainier Beach High School when he was the coach at Portland State. He said he felt Ladd could add “toughness and intensity,” good defense and the ability to shoot the 3-pointer to the team.
“I feel like what he’s brought is exactly what we’re looking for,” Bone said. “I know that thumb’s still bothering him. He’s fighting through some adversity.”
WITHOUT ADEN, Bone said the Cougars do not have true second scoring option to complement junior center Brock Motum (17.4 ppg). Because of that, he has asked a variety of players, including Moore, to step up.
“He’s taking more shots per game since Faisal has been out and that’s something we’ve asked him to do,” Bone said.
Moore is not scoring as much as he did as a freshman, but Bone feels he is a better all-around player. He noted that Moore is more court “savvy,” has a better assist-to-turnover ratio and is a stronger defender than 2009-10.
But even though he feels his team is improving, he said the Wildcats (18-8, 9-4) are in the same position. Arizona won the previous game between the teams, 85-61, Jan. 26. Bone said his team has adjusted offensively without Aden, but needs to contain forward Solomon Hill, who averages 8.2 rebounds per game, and play better defense to compete with the Wildcats.
He does not anticipate Arizona players overlooking the Cougars in favor of Saturday’s game at Washington (17-8, 10-3) that could vault the Wildcats into first place.
“With Arizona, I think their focus is very good,” Bone said. “They know what’s at stake.”
WSU also hosts Arizona State (8-17, 4-9) at 5 p.m. Saturday. That game will be televised on Root Sports.