The Washington State Cougars basketball team went an even 16-16 on the year, while going 6-12 in conference play. Head Coach Kyle Smith believes that after their tournament win over Colorado, their conference record should be upped to 7-12.
Smith caught up with Andy Katz of the Pac-12 Conference, where they reflected on Smith’s first season in Pullman, while also looking forward to next year’s team (fingers crossed there is a next year).
At the beginning of the interview, Smith and Katz looked back on the 2019-2020 season. Smith noted that going into the year, the focus was on improving three main areas of the game: defense, rebounding and ball-handling. It was easy to see the drastic progressions that the Cougs made in all three categories. WSU went from the 285th ranked in defense, down about 200 spots. In terms of ball-handling, the Cougs went from 200th in the country, all the way to 65th. Smith also touched on how rebounds on both sides of the ball took big jumps, despite several injuries to key rebounders throughout the season.
Washington State had some terrific wins in the 2019-2020 season. A few notable victories include upsetting No. 8 Oregon and sweeping the UW series. Smith believes the biggest win on the year was WSU’s first Pac-12 tournament win since 2009, against the sixth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes. He, and the rest of the Cougs were very sad and upset about the cancellation of the tournament.
“I really wanted postseason, whether we were going to play CBI, or make a run in the tournament. But I thought we were going to get 3-4 more games with that group,” Smith said.
Now with sports in an unprecedented hiatus, it gives Smith time to reflect, while also looking forward to next year. The Monday after Spring Break was supposed to be the start of a weightlifting program. A week after that, skill and development programs were scheduled to begin as well.
The default: emphasize academics from home.
Towards the middle of the interview, Katz asked Smith about how the roster will look next season. He responded with “hopefully similar. Smith would love to have Elleby back, but he believes that the team will flourish with or without the first-team All-Pac-12 forward. Smith believes that his young team will make significant jumps next season. He specifically pointed out Isaac Bonton, Noah Williams and “Big Vova”(Volodymyr Markovetskyy), among others to improve next year.
“If you look back at how Tony Bennett had success, their first three years were rough, where they were establishing who they were, and they kind of got through that, and then created their identity. We are trying to do the same,” Smith said.
Smith and the Cougs can’t wait to get back to normal and begin preparation for next season.
(Photos by: Kelis Barton – Cougar Sports Network)