It's only been his second season, but Washington State coach Ken Bone has already experienced quite a ride since taking over the program. To briefly sum it up, the Cougars had promising 10-2 starts in non-conference play in both seasons, but then finished last in the Pac-10 a year ago and sixth this season by going .500.
There have been glimpses of potential, with the Cougars routing Gonzaga at home and having a nice showing at the Diamond Head Classic (to some extent a five-point loss at home to Kansas State counts). There have been some turns in fortunes, with nagging injuries hurting the team and Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore being busted for marijuana possession in separate incidents which resulted in each being suspended for a game.
"Ya, it's had its ups and downs," Capers said Wednesday after the Cougars' final pre-Pac-10 Conference tournament workout, a practice delayed because WSU was stuck in Pullman an extra day due to snow and a canceled Tuesday flight.
"I feel we could have done better, but one thing we were constantly struggling (with) was our consistency," said Capers, a junior whose role has been anything but consistent this year, swinging back-and-forth from wing to point depending on Reggie Moore’s health. "When you don’t have consistency, your team is going to be a roller coaster during the season."
That brings us to tonight, as Washington State hopes to make its way off the bubble starting with a win against rival Washington. The Cougars have already swept the regular-season series, and the Huskies will be down a man with reserve guard Venoy Overton getting suspended for the tournament. Bone, a former UW assistant under Lorenzo Romar, knows there are few secrets between these two teams.
The Cougars certainly have the personnel to not only beat the Huskies a third time, but also win the entire tournament. Thompson led the conference in scoring while Moore, who is having an injury-plagued season and is expected to return from an ankle injury, burst onto the scene last season. DeAngelo Casto is a load to handle inside, Capers is a reliable presence, and sixth man Faisal Aden has the ability to provide instant offense.
The issue -- as Capers said -- has been consistency for a program that isn't accustomed to sustaining success like some of the other Pac-10 powers. It has crept up on a day-to-day basis, as Moore and Aden have missed practices battling nagging injuries. There's been a leadership question as well, with Thompson putting himself in a poor position with the marijuana incident and also previously showing up late for the team bus. And as a team, the Cougars have struggled on the road, getting swept by the Los Angeles and Arizona schools.
When will it all come together for the Cougars? The long-term answer remains unclear (as does Thompson's NBA draft decision), but there's plenty of opportunity over the next three days to make a strong statement.