NEW YORK — Washington State coach Ken Bone doesn't get 100 percent buy-in on the importance of defense from his players.
He does get enough to make the Cougars (22-12) a scary defensive team for Wichita State (27-8) in tonight's National Invitation Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
"We're not a great defensive team, but we definitely take more pride in our defense this year and value more possessions per game," Bone said. "I want to say every possession, but more possessions."
Bone is in his second season coaching the Cougars. Last season, Washington State allowed teams to shoot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range. This season, the Cougars allow a Pacific-10-best 39.6-percent shooting from the field and second-best 31.4 percent from behind the arc.
Bone mandated that improvement with the coach's ultimate hammer.
"Playing time," he said.
Bone knows how to wring defensive effort out of his players.
In three NIT games, the Cougars are allowing teams to shoot 38.5 percent from the field. Northwestern missed 28 of 38 threes. Oklahoma State missed 15 of 19. Long Beach State missed 21 of 30.
"When we're focused, it's tough to score on us because we've so much length and athletic ability," Cougars junior Klay Thompson said.
Washington State will play a trapping zone defense and some man-to-man. The Shockers must pass crisply and make smart decisions against the traps.
"They try to get you sped up and play their style of play," WSU center J.T. Durley said. "They throw a lot of defenses at you."
During Monday's practice, WSU coach Gregg Marshall reminded his players that a turnover off a five-second call is better than a turnover that results in a Cougars dunk. Washington State forces 14.6 turnovers. Kansas State, a 63-58 winner, committed 21 against Washington State in December; Gonzaga committed 25 in a 22-point loss in late November.
"They're a very tough team in terms of getting after you," Marshall said. "They'll get after you and try to turn you over."
Bone is equally impressed with the Shockers.
"Extremely well-coached, with a group of kids that look committed to accepting their roles," he said. "We talk to our guys a lot about 'We've got to be solid, not make mental mistakes.' When I watch Wichita State, that's what I see. They're sound. They're a true team. They work together to be efficient."