Lots of love in Tri-Cities for Ladd, Leavitt

KENNEWICK -- The real test awaits Washington State in Pac-12 Conference play, but coach Ken Bone says the Cougars passed their non-conference tests with flying colors.

"If I had to put a letter grade on it, I would say a B-plus," Bone said after the Cougars wrapped up non-conference play with a 74-39 rout of lowly Idaho State on Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Center.

The Cougars take a 9-4 record into next Saturday's Pac-12 opener with visiting Washington (6:30 p.m., ESPNU). WSU has won a season-best four consecutive games, and a two-point loss to then-No. 10 Gonzaga is all that separates the Cougars from an eight-game winning streak.

With a little luck during an admittedly weak non-conference schedule, the Cougars could be 12-1. Except for a 78-41 loss to then-No. 12 Kansas, all of WSU's losses have come by one or two points.

"It's not exactly where we want to be," Bone said, "but I think we've made great strides in certain areas that could really help us out in Pac-12 play."

Pressed for specifics, Bone started off with Mike Ladd. The senior, a natural wing, has become WSU's primary point guard in recent weeks.

"Not that all of a sudden he's Steve Nash or any other great point guard, but he's done some really good things," Bone said.

Ladd's development has enabled Royce Woolridge to move from the point to his natural wing spot more often. Bone, noting that Woolridge had 13 assists and just two turnovers the past two games, likes what he sees of the sophomore transfer from Kansas.

"He's learning how to get shots for his teammates," Bone said. "That's a real positive."

Last but hardly least, Bone acknowledged the importance of leading scorer and rebounder Brock Motum. The 6-foot-10 senior has led the Cougars in scoring (counting two ties) in all but two games.

"We've continued to find ways to get Brock Motum points," Bone said. "He wasn't at his best tonight, but Brock Motum has done a good job."

GAME NOTES: Motum tied Ladd for game honors with 17 points, but Motum played poorly at the start of the game and finished with a game-high five turnovers.

The 6-foot-5 Ladd led all players with nine rebounds and two steals. DaVonte Lacy added 16 points.

Ladd had all eight WSU points until Motum converted a three-point play after nearly 10 minutes of play. The Bengals, widely regarded as one of the worst teams in NCAA Division I, trailed 34-14 at the half.

Idaho State, 1-10 with five straight losses, shot 30 percent from the field in the first half and 37.2 percent for the game. The undersized Bengals were outrebounded 43-16 – 15-2 on the offensive glass -- and they were outscored 20-0 on second-chance points. And did we mention that Idaho State went 1 for 9 at the free-throw line?

The loss was Idaho State's 20th straight against Pac-12 opposition, and the win was WSU's 31st straight against Big Sky Conference teams. The Bengals' lone victory this season, against NAIA Montana Western, came in their only home game thus far.

FAN FAVORITE: WSU guard Bryce Leavitt, a walk-on freshman from Kennewick High School, drew enthusiastic cheers when he did anything above and beyond breathing.

"I had a lot of family and friends and old coaches and people that have known me, so it was pretty cool to get to play in front of them," Leavitt said.

Leavitt had two points, one rebound and an assist in seven minutes. He even drew cheers when his name was announced after he committed a foul.

"I've never heard such a big cheer for someone fouling," Leavitt said with a smile.

"He's done a great job," Bone said, "so I'm glad he was able to get in there and get a few minutes. He did a good job."

Leavitt said he turned down scholarship offers from four junior colleges to come to WSU, but only after he failed to gain admission to Columbia, an Ivy League school in New York City. He estimates 40 percent of his schooling is being covered by grants and academic scholarships.

Leavitt and Dexter Kernich-Drew both left the game in the second half and did not return after flagrant fouls sent them crashing to the floor. Leavitt injured his right wrist and Kernich-Drew's right shoulder was sore, but Bone said neither injury appears to be serious.

CROWD COUNT: The unofficial WSU "home" game drew 4,590. Four years ago, the Cougars drew a sellout crowd of 6,286 on their most recent visit to Kennewick.

Players and fans came out of the cold and into the ... cold. The Tri-City Americans hockey team plays in the Toyota Center, and with the basketball court laid out over the ice surface, it was quite cool in the arena.

"Pretty chilly," Ladd summed up.

"It was FREEZING!" Lacy said. "But Idaho State had to deal with the same thing as us."

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