Washington State gets a boost with win over Stanford
Faisal Aden, Washington State's senior guard, leads a comeback from a 13-point WSU second-half deficit and propels the Cougars to an 81-69 victory over Stanford.
Seattle Times college basketball reporter
California @ WSU, 3:05 p.m.
PULLMAN — Playing amateur psychologist, Ken Bone mulled the ingredients of Stanford's Pac-12 basketball matchup here Thursday night with his Washington State team.
"Snow, small crowd, we're 1-4," he said. "All that can play a part."
True, it could have caused the Cardinal to hit a dead spot emotionally, which was Bone's point. But the same elements might have led the Cougars to fall off a cliff.
Instead, just about when it was left for dead early in the second half, WSU rampaged back and took a restorative 81-69 victory over the Cardinal behind Faisal Aden's career-high 33 points.
"Winning solves so many problems," Bone was saying in a hallway after the game. "When you start losing, certain guys start feeling they should be playing more. Our guys have been good about that, but you know that stuff goes on.
"We talked about that the other day in staff meetings, that it was so critical we get a win this weekend, just (for his team) to believe in our system, that our stuff works."
Aden potentially could be one of those doubters, a senior not starting on an unremarkable team. But his 29 minutes were electric, a 10-for-17 night and 13 straight free throws.
"I knew I was hot, and I was confident coming into the game," Aden said. "I was just playing ball."
It's now 18 games into the 2011-12 season, and it's probable that the Cougars aren't headed anywhere good. They went 16-15 in Bone's first year, made it to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament a year ago, and with 10-8 and 2-4 records and the teeth of the Pac-12 schedule still ahead (OK, so the Pac-12 teeth are decayed and yellow this year), WSU figures to be a couch potato in March.
I don't think Bone sensed this was going to be a big year, and history could have reinforced that for him. There's something about third years of a basketball regime that tend to boldface the challenge that confronts the coach.
Just look at the most successful coaches here in the last generation. Kelvin Sampson went 7-22 and 1-17 in his third year. Dick Bennett flopped to a 4-14 league record, his worst at WSU, in his third season before turning it over to his son.
Even Tony Bennett, after having a heavy hand as an assistant in the incubation process of the Cougars, slipped to an NIT appearance after the monster 26-win seasons of 2006-07 and 2007-08.
So, Cougar fans, Bone is right on schedule. WSU is beef-shy inside and too inconsistent on the perimeter to make this a tournament season, a year after losing Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto.
"I don't want to say we're starting over," said Bone, pointing out that there are several hardworking seniors still around. "But it did hurt a lot, losing Klay and DeAngelo."
According to stat analyst Ken Pomeroy, the Cougars were 46th nationally in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) a year ago, and now they're 162nd. The apparent answer is that WSU doesn't have an inside defender anywhere near the capability of Casto.
In fact, of the 2 ½ recruiting classes under Bone that are now on the floor, the Cougars have pulled in only one big man — D.J. Shelton, who is playing just 13 minutes a game while transitioning from junior college.
With two forwards signed and 6-foot-10 center Richard Peters, it will get better. But Bone cautioned, "Being straight with you, I'm still not that confident we're going to be that good inside.
"But I am excited about our future. Like anybody, I wish we were better this year. But we are who we are. We're trying, and I appreciate that."
Indeed, for whatever's out there for the Cougars, they're still trying. They trailed Stanford 50-39 with 13:32 left. But they unleashed a 24-5 run and never looked back, shooting 72.7 percent in the second half.
It helped that Bellevue product Aaron Bright had a 2-for-12 night back in his home state. Stanford (15-4, 5-2) fell out of a first-place tie with California.
The crowd was just 3,119, slimmed by ice-rutted roads and continuing wet snow. It got rewarded, as Bone's guys hung with it on that journey to wherever it is they're going.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance: 3,119. Officials: Dick Cartmell, Michael Greenstein, Ken Ditty.