Ken Bone, the Washington State basketball coach, provided further insight Tuesday into his decision to insert sophomore Patrick Simon for the climactic shot of the Washington game Saturday.
It came up when I asked Bone about the mechanics of the play on the regular Pac-12 coaches conference call. Bone then called me to further elucidate his thoughts on the decision.
This was the situation: Washington had taken a 57-55 lead and WSU had the ball after a timeout with 19 seconds left. The Cougars had not only suffered through a 6-for-20 second half shooting free throws, they were unable to do anything from the three-point line; to that point, they were 2 of 16.
Reggie Moore was 0 for 3 as was Abe Lodwick, and Lodwick had already fouled out. Brock Motum and Davonte Lacy were 1 for 4 on threes. And Lacy was hobbled with a sore ankle.
“It’s not like we had someone on the court that had hit two or three or four threes,” Bone said on the conference call. “If anybody knows me, that’s the guy I’m definitely going to go to. But we didn’t have a guy like that on the court.”
As Bone explained the play Saturday in the post-mortem, Mike Ladd was supposed to set a baseline screen to free Simon in the corner, and was then to set a second screen for Brock Motum, who was headed to the basket paralleling the left side of the key.
I told Bone that it appeared on tape Ladd didn’t set the second screen for Motum, and wondered whether that might have impacted Simon’s decision to shoot, because Motum was covered. Bone replied – I think accurately – that when Simon opted to shoot, Ladd abandoned the second screen and prepared himself for a rebound.
As Bone explains the mechanics of the play, it’s not just an option for Simon – shoot or pass to Motum. Since Simon broke open, he shot, as Bone had instructed him.
Bone says he thought there was perhaps a “20 percent chance” Simon would be open. He thought the play likely would end up with the ball in Motum’s hands.
“I thought Washington would switch that screen (thus contesting Simon),” Bone said.
I asked Bone if he considered simply getting the ball to Motum, say, at the three-point line, and letting the star player either cast a three or drive to the basket, with the hope of getting fouled.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Get Brock the ball,’ ” Bone said. “But it wasn’t easy to get Brock the ball. They’ve got some quick bigs that did a really good job of denying Brock the ball.”
Indeed, it wasn’t one of Motum’s best games. He was 7 of 19 for 17 points, with four turnovers.
Bone reiterated that Simon is an excellent practice shooter who has ended scrimmages with a perfect three. Still, it’s fair to counter with the argument that he has now played only 27 minutes in Pac-12 games, and was shooting only 33 percent on threes before this game. Although Simon’s practice performance might argue otherwise, there would seem naturally to be a question of confidence surrounding Simon, simply on the basis of minimal playing time.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Bone said dryly. “Once it doesn’t work, there’s a lot of different ways you might want to do it.
“I think it’s fair criticism. It’s not like it’s bullet-proof, to bring a guy off the bench. But if you asked his teammates, ‘Would Pat hit that?’ they’d say, ‘Yeah, we see it all the time.’ ”
The Cougars had mostly thrown a rod down the stretch, scoring 10 points in the final 13 minutes. So I’m guessing Bone was at wit’s end, searching for something that might get them an easy basket.
Indeed, there is a heavy “hindsight” factor in this. If Simon makes the shot – even if it goes in and out – there’s no real debate. But he shot an air ball.
I confessed to Bone I didn’t like the move. But I shared with him a story that illustrates there’s not exactly universal agreement on this.
I covered most of Ralph Miller’s tenure at Oregon State back in the day. I distinctly remember a night when Miller did precisely the same thing – bring a “cold” player off the bench to take a critical shot. And I remember the press corps questioning Miller about it (as I recall, Ralph’s player didn’t have any more success with the shot than Simon did). Miller might have even done it more than once at Oregon State.
Miller was a Hall of Fame coach, so Bone isn’t in bad company. Said the WSU coach, “I’d run the same play Thursday night against UCLA if we were in the same situation.”