Bone: Cougars have incentive to play well

THERE IS A perception at times that struggling teams have no incentive to compete. It is a concept that Washington State coach Ken Bone bristled at during his Tuesday teleconference. While the Cougars are mired in 11th place in the Pac-12 entering this week's games, Bone said his players still are working hard.

The odds against WSU (9-14 overall, 2-9 conference) putting together a meaningful run in next month's Pac-12 Tournament are astronomical, but Bone said there are plenty of incentives to continue to compete with the winner earning a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

"We want to get better as a team and peak at the end of the year just like everyone else," Bone said.

That begins with the Cougars' second-to-last homestead of the season when it hosts California (15-8, 6-4) at 8 p.m. Wednesday. WSU then plays Stanford (15-7, 6-4) at 4 p.m. Friday. Both games are televised with the contest against the Golden Bears on ESPNU and Stanford on Pac-12 Networks. Bone said neither team excels in any specific area, but both are strong all-around teams.

"They've both proven they're really good at almost everything," Bone said.

Meanwhile, the Cougars have struggled in many areas. For a second consecutive season, WSU has played without a true point guard. Junior-college transfer Danny Lawhorn was expected to help fill that void until he left the university during the fall for undisclosed reasons. Junior Royce Woolridge played well in that role earlier in the season, Bone said, but since has struggled with his shot. Ike Iroegbu has come off the bench to spell Woolridge but has not seized the job from him. Woolridge has converted just 18.4 percent of his 3-pointers and is shooting 56 percent from the free-throw line. Woolridge averages only 2.9 assists per game, but Bone said that is misleading.

"Sometimes he'll make a good pass and it's all for naught," said Bone, referencing the team's 41.3 percent field-goal percentage.

Bone said the difficulty in putting the ball in the basket simply relates more to players missing shots, than to poor offensive execution.

While the backcourt has struggled, WSU has received too little offensive support from its posts. CF.C asked about the progression of true freshman Josh Hawkinson, who has seen his playing time decline lately. Bone said that is related more to giving minutes to 7-foot junior Jordan Railey and sophomore Junior Longrus than an indictment on Hawkinson. He said he was concerned that cutting the playing time of Railey, who missed 16 consecutive shots at one point earlier in the season, could affect his confidence.

The push to give Railey and Longrus playing time means Hawkinson averages just 6.8 minutes per game. But Bone said he has taken advantage of that by "playing really well" when given an opportunity.