Ken Bone has a dry sense of humor.
It showed again during his Tuesday news conference when he was asked if the starting lineup would change again. Sophomores Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto did not start during Sunday's 71-46 loss at Arizona State after being late for a team function.
"Nobody was late for anything yesterday," Bone said.
That was easy because the team was off Monday as second semester began at Washington State. Bone said both players, along with reserve redshirt freshman forward James Watson, who was benched until the second half against ASU, were only "two or three minutes" late.
"Our guys have done an outstanding job in being prompt," he said. "They're a very disciplined group."
The Cougars (12-4 overall, 2-2 conference) will need to be just that after coming off their most lopsided loss of the season. They host California (10-5, 2-1) -- a team many analysts projected to win the Pac-10 -- at 7 p.m. Thursday and Stanford (8-7, 2-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Friel Court. The Bears swept WSU last season.
IN A CONFERENCE where "youth" has become the buzzword of the season, Cal is different than its peers. Its top three scorers -- guards Patrick Christopher (15.4 points per game) and Jerome Randle (19.1) and forward Theo Robertson (14.9) -- all are seniors. Both Randle and Robertson are better than 40 percent on 3-pointers.
"I think at least one of them is going to be in the NBA," Bone said. "It's a situation where we have to have a lot of pride in our defense."
The Bears are ranked fourth nationally in adjusted offense by statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy. Bone said they present a defensive challenge for his because they also have depth in the front court. He described 6-foot-8 senior Jamal Boykin, who averages 11.1 points per game, as similarly "relentless" to Casto.
In addition to Boykin, Cal also has 6-8 junior Markhuri Sanders-Frison and 7-3 sophomore Max Zhang. The two share the center position and combine to play about 30 minutes per game. Neither is much of a scoring threat, but Sanders-Frison averages 4.1 rebounds and Zhang blocks a team-high 1.6 shots per game.
IT ALL ADDS up to a team Bone describes as "really good." He said the Bears are better now than they were in the preseason because Robertson, who missed six games with a right foot injury, is back.
But that was not enough to get Cal, or any other Pac-10 team, a vote in the Associated Press' Top 25 this week for the first time since 1987. Washington was ranked 24th before being swept in Arizona. Bone said he "has too many other things to worry about" to analyze the situation too closely, but felt that many are "piggybacking" on the perception that the Pac-10 is weak.
"I think there's a lot of parity in the conference this year," he said. "Even though Washington is at the bottom of the conference at 1-3, I still think they have a lot of talent."
HE ALSO NOTED Oregon State, which lost by six points or less at both Washington schools, and then were blown out by 51 points at home against Seattle University last week. The Beavers followed that with their first conference win, 64-57, at first-place Oregon.
"One of the situations is we haven't been very consistent," Bone said. "That's hurt them and us. You're dealing with a lot of young kids and a lot of it is between the ears."
That also could describe the Cougars last week. They won for just the third time at Arizona, 78-76, since 1984 when Casto scored with one-tenth of a second remaining Friday. Then came ASU.
"We did not do well," Bone said. "I did not do well. It was a bad day."
WSU is one of five teams tied for third place in the conference with a 2-2 record. Bone again mentioned the Dec. 31 Oregon game, which the Cougars appeared to win in the second overtime when Casto scored with three-tenths of a second remaining before a technical foul was assessed that allowed Tajuan Porter to tie the game. Oregon won 91-89 in the third overtime.
"I sure wish we were 3-1 rather than 2-2," he said. "We were so close on that Oregon game."
Bone is not one to downplay the importance of winning at home. The Cougars are 10-10 in Pac-10 play at Friel Court since they went 7-2 in 2006-07.
"I think it's important in every league at every level to protect your home court," he said.
Sophomore guard Michael Harthun has seen sporadic playing time. After not playing in the Cougars' 65-60 win Jan. 2 against Oregon State, he combined for 15 minutes against the Arizona schools. Harthun is shooting just 31.4 percent from the field and Bone thinks he could be pressing on the court.
"It's hard when you're not playing a lot of minutes and your best attribute is your shooting," said Bone, adding that he does not feel Harthun is nervous on the court.
With the exception of point guard Reggie Moore, who is second on the team in points (13.0) and minutes (31.1) per game, Bone said he is trying to not to overextend his freshmen. Guard Xavier Thames is the only freshman besides Moore who averages more than 10 minutes per contest.
"I think (we are) playing him at the times we believe he can be successful," said Bone, referring to Thames. "That's what we're trying to do with all the freshman."