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Motum gone, Washington State looks to defense

October 31, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Two-time Pac-12 leading scorer Brock Motum may be gone to graduation but that has Washington State coach Ken Bone looking to shore up his defense.

Bone wants the Cougars to be much more aggressive on defense this season.

“The last few years, we have played fairly passive,” Bone said. “When I talk about aggressiveness, I’m talking about denial defense, on the ball pressure, but hopefully not using our hands a whole lot and fouling.”

The emphasis on defense is a return to the style of play favored by former coach Tony Bennett, who led the Cougars to their most successful seasons in decades before leaving for Virginia following the 2008-09 season.

Bone, who replaced Bennett, said the Cougars’ depth at guard is a major reason for the defensive emphasis.

“I feel we have good quickness and depth in the back court and we want to take advantage of that,” Bone said.

Motum, who averaged 18 points a game last season, and point guard Mike Ladd are the top departures from a team that finished 13-19 overall, 4-14 and tied for 11th in the Pac-12. That ended a streak of six straight winning seasons.

Many of the losses were close, with games decided in the closing minutes.

“I’m hoping that we have better poise down the stretch,” Bone said.

The Cougars had been counting on junior college transfer Danny Lawhorn to play point guard this season, but he recently quit the team and the job will likely fall to Royce Woolridge again.

Guard Que Johnson, who was not eligible to play last season, will finally get a chance to show what he can do, Bone said. Johnson had recently been slowed by a stress fracture, but has resumed practice.

“He was thrown out there and he was pretty good immediately,” Bone said.

Another newcomer is freshman guard Ike Iroegbu.

“He’s going to be a very good player in this league,” Bone said.

Veterans who are back from last year include Will Dilorio, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Junior Longrus, who played all 32 games as a freshman.

The Cougars are predicted to finish last in the conference, but that doesn’t bother starting guard Davonte Lacy.

“We don’t have to subscribe to it,” he said. “We can run with it and use that as a stepping stone, as like a chip on our shoulder.”

Woolridge said the Cougars have higher aspirations.

“We want to win 20-plus games,” he said. “We want to do really well in the Pac-12 this year.”

No one player can make up for Motum’s scoring production, Woolridge said.

“This year we’ve got a lot of different scorers on our team,” he said. “When it’s not just one person, everyone feels they have a part on the team.”

Five things to watch as Washington State opens its season:

RETURNING STARTERS: The Cougars return three starters in Lacy, Woolridge and forward D.J. Shelton. Woolridge, who played point guard last season, is the top returning scorer at 11 points per game, while Lacy averaged 10.5 points and Shelton averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds.

NEW COACHES: Veteran assistant coach Ben Johnson left the program to return to Australia. Former Boise State head coach Rod Jensen was promoted to assistant coach, and Tim Marrion replaced him as director of player development.

HOT SEAT: Bone, whose record of 70-65 at WSU represents the sixth-most wins in team history, could be on the hot seat in his fifth season. He has never taken the Cougars to the NCAA tournament, and attendance averaged just 4,900 at the 11,000-seat Friel Court last season.

THE SCHEDULE: The Cougars have non-conference games this season at Gonzaga and against Butler, TCU and UTEP. They travel to the Old Spice Classic in Florida, and play San Francisco State in Kennewick and Utah in Spokane.

LEATHER AND LACY: Lacy, a junior, is on pace to become the 34th Cougars to score 1,000 career points. He also could end as one of the top 3-point shooters in program history.

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