Washington State guard Klay Thompson averaged 19.6 points a game last season, but averaged a mere six points in the two games against Washington.
The Huskies won both, and they figure their chances are good again if they can blanket Thompson anywhere near as well tonight at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.
“He’s a tough cover,” UW guard Venoy Overton said. “He’s 6-foot-7: He can shoot right over you, he’s got a high release. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. That’s scary. We know what he’s capable of doing.”
What Thompson is doing this season is enough to keep him in a three-man race with Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and Arizona’s Derrick Williams for Pacific-10 Conference player of the year honors.
Thompson leads the conference and ranks eighth nationally with a 22.2-point scoring average. He is 23rd nationally in 3-point-field-goal percentage (.428) and ninth in 3-point field goals per game (3.1). He also ranks in the national top 100 in steals and free-throw percentage.
Yet, for all the numbers he can produce, he hasn’t produced them against the Huskies.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Thompson said. “They’ve got some great defenders and some very athletic players. I think it was a little bit of both: I missed some shots that I can make, but they played good defense, too.”
Overton was asked UW’s secret.
“We’ve got Justin Holiday,” he said. “He’s the same height, athletic, so we’ve got somebody who can stick up with him. We know that he can shoot the ball, so we try to get him off that 3-point line and make him be a driver.”
Holiday said guarding Thompson is always a challenge, and not one he can handle alone.
“When he’s got the ball in his hand, you’ve got to be ready for him to shoot or drive,” Holiday said. “That makes him a tough cover for anybody guarding him. You’ve got to be able to get your hands there so he’s not shooting wide-open jump shots, and be able to defend if he goes to the (basket) because he’s able to penetrate well. (You need to) have the rest of your team playing defense on him, as well. It’s not just one person.”
Thompson’s performance today could go a long way in determining a game that is important for both teams.
A win by the Huskies would keep them alone atop the Pac-10 standings at the schedule’s midpoint.
A win by the Cougars would rejuvenate their NCAA tournament hopes.
Then there’s also the personal matter of Thompson’s apparent rivalry with Thomas, who took note last week when Thompson told a Seattle radio station that Williams was most deserving of player-of-the-year honors.
“He said what he said,” Thomas noted. “It’s no disrespect. But he said it, and it made me smile when he did.”
Also in the days leading up to the game, WSU coach Ken Bone used an ad in the student newspaper to ask the home fans to support the Cougars with “the class and dignity associated with the meaning of Cougar Pride.”
A sellout crowd is expected, as is the usual intensity that accompanies any meeting between the Huskies and Cougars.
“I think they’ll come out and be ready to go at us,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Not just their team, but their student section and their whole basketball community. And they will be waiting for us when we get off the bus. I know both teams bring it whenever we play.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
NO. 18 WASHINGTON (15-4 OVERALL, 7-1 PACIFIC-10 CONFERENCE) AT WASHINGTON STATE (14-6, 4-4)
7 p.m., Beasley Coliseum, Pullman.
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM, 850-AM
Series: UW leads 171-98, including wins in the past four meetings.
Statistical leaders: For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 16.9 ppg and 5.8 apg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 7.7 rpg. For WSU – Klay Thompson, 22.2 ppg and 4.4 apg; DeAngelo Casto, 6.3 rpg.
Scouting report: With a win, UW will be alone in first place at the midpoint of the Pac-10 race. That would mark the Huskies’ first 8-1 league start since 1984. WSU is thought to be an NCAA tournament bubble team, and this result could help or hurt the Cougars’ chances of earning an tournament invitation. Thomas and Thompson are considered two of the top three contenders for Pac-10 player of the year, along with Arizona’s Derrick Williams. Thompson leads the league in scoring, and ranks eighth nationally. Thomas leads the league in assists and is third in scoring. UW leads the Pac-10 in scoring (87.1 ppg); WSU is third (75.2). The Huskies also lead in scoring margin, field-goal percentage, rebounding margin, blocked shots, assists, turnover margin, assist/turnover ratio, offensive rebounds and offensive-rebounding percentage. The Cougars lead in field-goal-percentage defense. WSU is last in offensive rebounds. WSU coach Ken Bone was a UW assistant under Romar from 2002-05.
Next for UW: 6 p.m. Thursday, at Oregon State, Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.
Next for WSU: 6 p.m. Thursday, at Oregon, Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.
Don Ruiz, staff writer