PULLMAN – The young men on the Washington State basketball team seem like an unusually mature lot.
Opponents praise the Cougars for playing hard, even in lopsided defeats. Players meet with the media after losses – never a pleasant task – and answer questions directly and politely. Coach Ken Bone frequently praises their effort and camaraderie.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, effort and camaraderie do not always result in victories. Washington State is buried in last place in the Pac-12 Conference for the second year in a row, but players refused Wednesday to take the easy way out and blame their troubles on increasing public and media speculation that Bone will be fired at season’s end.
“No. No. You’ve got to play in the moment,” said standout guard DaVonte Lacy, who hopes to return from a rib injury Saturday against visiting Washington (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). “If you’re worrying about this and this, that takes your attention away from what’s in the moment.
“Of course, there’s talk. Everybody’s going to talk if you don’t win games. Somebody’s got to get blamed. Unfortunately, it’s him right now. My personal opinion, I think it’s a bunch of crap.”
Forward D.J. Shelton and point guard Royce Woolridge said they agree with Lacy that the Bone speculation has not impacted the team.
“We don’t listen to none of that,” Shelton said.
“We don’t pay any attention to that,” Woolridge said. “We’re worried about this season and winning some games.”
Lacy, WSU’s best player and a respected team leader, has been sidelined since Jan. 5 at Arizona State. The Cougars did not practice Monday and Tuesday, but Lacy joined the team for practice Wednesday.
“I’m feeling good,” he said prior to the practice. “Just progressing day by day. Saturday was always the goal to come back.”
Lacy leads the Cougars with 17.7 points, 1.5 steals, 47.6 percent field-goal shooting and 39.8 percent 3-point shooting. He’s second in rebounds (4.7) and assists (1.6).
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Oregon State star Roberto Nelson said last week after the Beavers won in Pullman.
The Cougars (8-12, 1-7 Pac-12) desperately need Lacy’s sweet jump shot. Washington State ranks 335th among 351 NCAA Division I teams with 62.1 points per game and 313th in field-goal shooting percentage at 41.3.
The numbers are even worse in Pac-12 play – 49.1 points and 35.9 percent shooting. Those figures, along with 61.8 percent shooting at the free-throw line in league games, rank a distant last in the conference.
“I know it’s killing him (Lacy) to see this happen and he can’t do nothin’ about it,” Shelton said.
The Cougars sank just 10 of 40 field goals last Sunday against Oregon. Only two of those baskets came inside the 3-point line.
“We’ve got to attack more,” Shelton said. “I think we need to get better shots.”
“I feel like we get open shots,” Woolridge said. “We execute the offense pretty well. It just comes down to getting some confidence and knocking down some shots.”
Shelton said a four-game losing streak has not affected the team’s overall confidence level.
“It has not dropped,” he said. “It’s still a get-better-every day attitude.”
Woolridge agreed, saying, “We’re a family. We’re all really close . . . we know how good we can be.”
The Cougars also know how good the Huskies (13-8, 5-3) and senior guard C.J. Wilcox can be. Wilcox ranks second to Nelson in the Pac-12 with 19.6 ppg.
“They’re a good team,” Lacy said. “They like to run in transition. Obviously, they’ve got one of the best shooting guards in the country in Wilcox.”
Lacy isn’t too shabby himself. The Tacoma native would love to end Washington’s six-game winning streak over the Cougars on Saturday, but Lacy said he won’t rush back into action too soon just to play the Huskies.
“I’m not coming back to be average,” he said, his eyes burning with intensity. “I’m coming back to be what I was before, and I didn’t think I was an average player before.”