PULLMAN – The Pacific-12 Conference appears to be down as a whole this season, but don’t try telling that to the Washington State men’s basketball team.
The Cougars entered conference play on a roll with six straight victories. Then, they hit a wall, dropping three of their four Pac-12 games – including blowout losses to Oregon at home (92-75) and to Colorado in Boulder (71-60).
WSU senior Charlie Enquist said the streak has been “a little tough on our confidence.”
Coach Ken Bone and crew can get things going in a positive direction if the Cougars beat Washington for the third time in four meetings Sunday in Seattle (4 p.m., Root Sports). WSU swept the Huskies during the regular season last year, then lost an 89-87 thriller at the Pac-10 tournament.
“I think we’re going to have to shoot well and rebound the ball, and then try to control Tony Wroten the best we can,” Bone said of how the Cougars can stop UW.
“I know they’ve got all kinds of other threats that are (prospective) pros, but I think Tony Wroten right now is the head of the deal.”
Wroten, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound freshman guard out of Seattle’s Garfield High School, ranks second in the Pac-12 with 17 points a game and fourth with 1.9 steals. He also leads the league with 66 turnovers (4.1 per game), and he’s hitting just 22 percent of his 3-pointers and 54 percent of his free throws.
HEAT ON BONE?
ESPN.com’s Jason King lists Bone among 10 NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches “who are on the hot seat (or at least should be).”
Bone might always suffer from comparisons to Tony Bennett, whose .676 winning percentage ranks first in WSU history (except for John Bender’s .800 mark after going 12-3 in his lone season as coach in 1907-08). Bone bashers point out that Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers are currently 14-2 and ranked 16th in the nation.
Consider this, however:
• Washington State is 9-7 (1-3 Pac-12) after the team’s two best players – Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto – passed up their senior seasons to turn pro.
• Bone posted winning records in each of his first two seasons, an achievement that eluded such respected predecessors as Jack Friel, Marv Harshman, George Raveling, Kelvin Sampson and Dick Bennett.
• Bone is the only one of those coaches who guided the Cougars to the NIT semifinals (although the Cougars played in the 1941 NCAA title game under Friel). Bone’s 47-35 record in his first three years at WSU is tops among the aforementioned group.
Still, some seem to have been calling for Bone’s head from the moment he replaced Tony Bennett, whose back-to-back 26-win seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08 are unmatched in school history. Bennett’s third and final WSU team finished just one game above .500, as did Bone’s first WSU team.
Enquist hopes to go to medical school, although he’s earned a degree in mechanical engineering. “I feel like being a doctor would be more fun,” he said. … NBA draft analyst Chad Ford of ESPN rates Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross, Washington’s other starting wing player, the best 2012 draft prospects from the Pac-12. Ford has Wroten at No. 16, one notch ahead of Ross.