Coach Ken Bone <..."/> Coach Ken Bone <..."/>

Cougs Stun Critics and Bruins


Wednesday evening was a combination of thrills mixed with a dose of redemption for Coach Ken Bone and the Washington State Cougars (12-18, 3-14). The Cougs upset No. 23 UCLA (22-8, 12-5) on Friel Court by a final of 73-61 in Pullman.

Critics and a large number of bandwagon Cougar hoops fans have shown only one interest in the WSU basketball program of late. They issue disparaging, derogatory commentary the way members of the US Congress talk about getting our American economy chugging once again. Words are carelessly thrown about without concern for their effect.

No question this has been a tough basketball season for Cougar fans…the few who have remained loyal to the crimson and gray. Time and time again their team has come up just a bit short of winning games.

So why would any reasonable person expect the outcome of a Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and WSU to be entertaining? If I had a positive answer to that question it would be a pleasure to share it with you.

UCLA arrived in Pullman Wednesday on the heels of a tremendous victory over arguably the best team in the conference, Arizona, in front of a national television audience and packed Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.

The last time the Cougars successfully defended their home court against the Bruins, George H. W. Bush was in the final year of his second term as president of the United States. Translated into win-loss terms, UCLA won the previous 19 games played in Beasley Coliseum.

How did the Cougs pull off the victory?


Coach Bone outcoached UCLA Coach Ben Howland.

Bone’s team prevailed by not only applying x’s and o’s efficiently into their game plan, the guys in the white jerseys did as they have done throughout this season. The Cougs were emotionally ready to bring their best effort from the opening tip.

An embarrassingly sparse home crowd on hand (4,268) mirrored the attitude of the guys wearing Bruin uniforms. They showed up for a ridiculous mismatch located in a remote location knowing that virtually no one would be tuned in to the Pac-12 Network to watch the game.

As they have done game in and game out, the Washington State Cougars have no time to waste on folks who are focused on what they haven’t done rather than what they can do on a basketball court.

Add into this mix the fact Coach Bone lost another starter. Senior Mike Ladd was joined on the bench in civies by sophomore DaVonté Lacy. Lacy’s season is over due to a torn meniscus in his right knee and is out for the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign. Keep in mind both Ladd and Lacy have the potential to put up 20+ points on any given night when they play.

The Bruins sauntered onto Friel Court with visible contempt for this obligatory scheduled game. There was no swagger to their step. No, UCLA lacked any concern about whether or not they would win their 20th straight game against a physically inferior opponent. Heck, two of the Bruin starters will likely be NBA draft picks this year following a run into the NCAA tournament.

Coach Howland offered lip service in reference to the possibility Washington State might knock off his charging Bruins. After all, Howland is the only UCLA coach to have lost a game to WSU on his home court in the last five decades of competition thanks to a feisty Cougar squad led by Coach Tony Bennett a few years back. Howland feigned worry about a similar fate besmerching his record if the Cougs could muster another major upset.

This game got away from Coach Howland early. Despite burning most of his allotted time outs in the first 11-minutes of play, Washington State players took full advantage of a ball club who transitioned from sleep walking into disbelief. With 8:21 remaining in the first half the under-performing, athletically talented Bruins stared with incredulity at the new scoreboard in Beasley which read: WSU 25 – UCLA 4. That’s not a typo folks. Arrogance proved to bite the Bruins in the butt. Their conference leading offense put up a paltry 4 points in 11+ minutes of play.

What the heck was going on?

"“Ours guys (were playing) with great poise and with determination to execute our offense and we were able to get some good looks at the hoop right near the basket”, said Coach Ken Bone during post-game interviews."

Bone was exercising professional courtesy by minimizing what the Cougs were doing to the Bruins early on. In street terms, Washington State was taking UCLA to school. Reason? Coach Howland refused to adapt his defense to counter WSU’s offensive scheme. By the time Howland conceded his man-to-man defense could be shredded by Bone’s high screens with cutters the damage was done.

WSU was dominating the score of this game because of their aggressive, smart play. If you look at the physical matchup between these two teams, UCLA has bigger guys with superior skills. But when you watched this game, it was all about effort and getting into position to be successful.

"“It was very impressive. For us to come up with 21 offensive rebounds and them have 23 total rebounds, and obviously we’re not the size of those guys. I thought our kids just left it all on the floor, they played determined and battled and once again worked very hard”, praised Bone about his team."

UCLA managed a run to begin the second half. The Cougs were stone cold coming out of the locker room missing 8 of their first 9 shots which allowed the Bruins to close the score to 37-31. But that was that. UCLA would never get closer to the Cougs the rest of the way.

"“I feel like a number of our kids played with a great level of poise. We really didn’t panic during that (run)”, explained Coach Bone."

The Cougs needed someone to step up and take charge if Wasington State was to break form and finish a game. Sophomore Royce Woolridge did that very thing. It was the leadership on the court by Woolridge which settled WSU back down early on in the second half.

"“It was because UCLA has the ability to really get into you. When they started pressuring (Woolridge) even more, he had the court sense to attack. Attack the key and attack the rim. I think Royce had a good game”, Coach Bone offered as post-game analysis."

Almost as shocking as the Cougar victory Wednesday was the olive branch extended by the few media members covering this game. Coach Bone has been lobbed softball questions by reporters this season about as often as his team registers wins. Here’s rare exchanges as examples:

"“We’ve been scrutinized quite a bit on how bad we are, we’ve lost this game and that game and how we lose the games and everything else. It’s nice to go out and beat a quality team and play good basketball… It’s nice to see the guys be rewarded with a win and excited about playing hard, playing together and doing the things we’ve tried to do all season long, and fortunately, we came out with the win.”"

This win doesn’t completely erase a very disappointing season, but it reveals where the WSU program is heading.

If you watch Coach Bone’s teams you will see five guys on the court who play with enthusiasm, determination and effort from the opening tip to the final buzzer. And yes, the five guys on the court have been coached up to succeed in terms of being the best basketball player they can be.

And that my friends was the difference Wednesday night.

· Brock Motum led WSU with 20 points…he scored 12 of his points in the first half…he has scored double figures in all 30 of WSU’s games this season and in 30-straight games. Motum added 11 rebounds, marking his fourth double-double of the season and seventh of his career. Brock passed Marcus Moore to move into sixth place on WSU’s all-time career scoring list…he now has 1,471 points…he’s 25 points away from moving into fifth.
· Royce Woolridge added 19 points. He’s scored in double figures in two-straight games and nine of the last 10 games.
· D.J. Shelton was one point shy of his career high with 13 points and tied his career high with 3 blocked shots.
· Dexter Kernich-Drew had a career-high 11 rebounds (bettering his career high by 3) and had his first career double-double, adding 11 points.
· The Cougars snapped their eight-game losing streak over ranked opponents, getting their first win over a ranked opponent since Jan. 30, 2011 when they defeated No. 18 Washington.
· WSU snapped its nine-game losing streak, the longest since the 2002-03 season when they lost 14-straight.
· WSU Coach Ken Bone got his 69th win as a Cougar, moving into a three-way tie as sixth-winningest coach in school history tying Tony Bennett (2006-09) and Kevin Eastman (1995-99).
· The 11-point win is WSU’s fourth double-figure win over UCLA since 1938 and sixth all-time.
· UCLA’s 24 points are the fewest in a first half by a WSU opponent this season since Idaho State scored 14 points in the first half Dec. 29.