Bone reflects on his WSU seniors

AS WASHINGTON STATE prepares for the final week of the regular season, coach Ken Bone took time during his Tuesday teleconference to reflect on the contributions of his seniors. Bone also talked about the Cougars' upcoming opponents — USC and UCLA — and the importance of those games headed into the Pac-12 Tournament.

Barring an unexpected postseason berth, guard Will DiIorio and forward D.J. Shelton will play their final home games this week. Shelton has made dramatic strides on the hardwood, where his 9.3 rebounds per game ranks second in the conference behind California's Richard Solomon (9.8). But Bone, who signed Shelton out of California's Citrus College in 2011, is just as impressed with his improvement in other areas.

"He might be one of the most improved people in all the programs I've coached," said Bone, adding that Shelton has embraced what the coaches have asked him to do.

That means rebounding, but Shelton also has contributed on the offensive end, where he averages 9.9 points per game. Only junior guard DaVonté Lacy (19.6) scores at a higher rate for the team than Shelton.

"D.J. is very valuable," Bone said. "In my eyes, he's just as important as DaVonté."

Meanwhile, DiIorio serves a different role for WSU (9-19 overall, 2-14 conference). He averages just 8.6 minutes per game, but the Bainbridge High School graduate provides value in different ways for the Cougars.

"He's one of our captains and has done everything we've asked for four years," said Bone, noting that DiIorio, a former walk-on, could have received a scholarship to play at multiple smaller colleges on the East Coast.

Bone said the coaching staff has paired DiIorio with others who might need more guidance during road trips because of his maturity. He said DiIorio often concentrates on classwork during road trips.

Both players will attempt to help WSU avoid a last-place finish. The Cougars can accomplish that with a win at 8 p.m. Thursday against USC (10-19, 1-15). WSU also plays at 8 p.m. Saturday against UCLA (22-7, 11-5). Thursday's game will be televised on ESPNU, while Saturday's contest is on Fox Sports 1.

The Cougars faced a similar predicament last season when they also hosted the Southern California schools to conclude the regular season. Despite finishing 4-14 in conference play, WSU won both games by double figures and then almost upset Washington to open the Pac-12 Tournament.

"I felt like that gave us confidence going into the tournament," Bone said.

As the season winds down, Bone said he is trying to coax redshirt freshman Que Johnson to become more involved in the offense. Johnson, who averages 9.6 points per game, only scored in double figures twice in February. He reached that benchmark six times in January when Lacy was sidelined for most of the month with a rib injury.

Bone said Johnson has "responded the same" regardless of whether he starts, but he wants him to become more assertive on offense. He noted that Johnson was hindered by not playing last season as a partial qualifier and fell further behind when he sustained multiple injuries during the summer and fall.