Klay Thompson Finds His Touch As Cougars Beat the Huskies
When it was all said and done, and the fans left the court they had rushed after watching their team beat their rivals, the Washington State Cougars realized that this season is far from over; there is work still to be done.
Sunday night in Pullman, a sellout crowd watched the hometown Cougars beat the No. 17-ranked Washington Huskies 87-80, in a game that was the first step towards the Cougars making it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
"Our goal is to try to get to the NCAA tournament," Cougar head coach Ken Bone said. "This is one of those games we felt we really, really needed."
Coming into the game, the Cougars had lost four straight to their foes from the western side of the state. In fact, no one on the current Cougar roster had tasted victory over the Huskies before last night. Juniors Abe Lodwick and Charlie Enquist were redshirting in 2008 when the Cougars beat the Huskies twice.
The crowd inside Beasley Coliseum was insane, to put it mildly, and the Cougars fed off that energy.
Unlikely performers stepped up, as the Cougars were plagued with foul trouble all night.
With more than 10 minutes remaining in the second half, the Cougars found four players with four fouls. Four key players. Starters Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto, Abe Lodwick and reserve center Brock Motum.
At the time of Thompson picking up his fourth foul, the Cougars were up 63-58, following three free throws by Washington's Justin Holiday.
And that was as close as the Huskies ever got.
Thanks to offensive highlights from players such as Patrick Simon and Enquist, who average just 11 minutes and two minutes of playing time, the Cougars were able to keep the Huskies at a healthy distance until Thompson was able to come back in to seal the deal.
Thompson was coming off just a nine-point performance a week earlier against Arizona and coming into the game against Washington; much was made of Thompson's struggles against Washington.
In four career games, Thompson had scored a combined 29 points.
In his fifth game, he went off for 25, including nine points in the final 5:57 where he played the remainder of the game with four fouls.
Another big reason for the Cougars upset was sophomore guard Reggie Moore.
The Seattle native scored a season-high 18 points, including going nine of 10 from the free-throw line.
Moore also provided the highlight of the night early in the second half during a 10-1 Cougar run, when Moore received an alley-oop pass from Faisal Aden and slammed it down to give the Cougars their biggest lead at 55-44.
Looking towards this game, I said the Cougars would need to stop penetration of the Washington guards, because that would create three-point opportunities for the Huskies, who shoot 39 percent from beyond the arc.
That didn't happen.
Isaiah Thomas frequently penetrated the Cougars' 2-3 zone they played throughout the night, and when the Cougars collapsed down, Thomas kicked out to wide-open three-point shooters.
The Huskies fired away at will, 31 times in fact, and connected on just 11 of them. Overall, the Huskies shot just 37 percent from the field, the third time they've been held below 40 percent, and in all those games they lost.
Washington State's 2-3 zone took away Matthew Bryan-Amaning. The senior scored a season-low six points on one of eight from the floor in 33 minutes.
The Cougars zone defense gave more than just Bryan-Amaning fits, it flustered the Huskies as a whole. They turned the ball over a season-high 24 times, twice as much as their average of just 12.
Thomas himself had a season-high seven turnovers.
"That's my fault," said Thomas. "I take the blame for this loss."
Now the Cougars find themselves at 15-6, with four winnable games over the next two weeks. This Thursday in Eugene, Ore. starts a weekend pair of games in Oregon, before returning home the following weekend to take on California and Stanford.
The Cougars are higher than all these teams in the conference standings and, should they win all four, will have won 19 games and control their own destiny of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Thompson believes that's a real possibility.
"The first half of the Pac-10 season didn't go exactly how we wanted it," Thompson said. "We think we can be the best team in the league and I think we showed that tonight."
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